The war savings gimmick is back! As the debate over how to offset a permanent "doc fix" to Medicare's Sustainable Growth Rate formula heats up, the idea of "paying for" it with "savings" from the war drawdown already underway has resurfaced.
One of the most contentious provisions in the Ryan-Murray budget agreement that became the Bipartisan Budget Act was a provision that reduced cost-of-living increases for military retirees under age 62 (read our explanation here). The provision generated the ire of many veterans groups, and some lawmakers have vowed to reverse the reduction.
Military personnel costs continue to increase as a share of the defense budget. One of the fastest growing components is military health care, where spending has outpaced even overall health care spending growth, according to the CBO. With base defense spending being reduced in recent years and through 2021, as a result of the Budget Control Act and sequestration, controlling health care spending will be important, or it will crowd out other defense priorities.
Among the many things we noted yesterday on the blog about the omnibus appropriations bill was the similarity between war spending in the bill and in the past fiscal year. Spending for overseas contingency operations declined by only $1 billion -- from $93 billion to $92 billion -- between 2013 and 2014, and spending was more than $20 billion higher than what CBO assumes in its drawdown scenario.
Among the elements of the budget deal that passed Congress last month was a small $6 billion change to the way military pensions are calculated for military retirees younger than 62. In the face of lawmakers who would roll back this change, both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal editorial boards defended the provision in the last two days.
As CRFB has explained in a recent analysis, the Bipartisan Budget Act under consideration in the Senate would replace a portion of the mindless sequester cuts with more targeted reforms. One controversial proposal in the bill would reduce cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees. This blog explains that provision.
On Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan announced a budget deal that set discretionary spending levels for the next two years, removed some of sequestration's cuts, imposed targeted spending cuts and fee increases, and modestly reduced deficits over the next decade (see our full analysis of the deal).
Replacing the sequester will be an important item on the conference committee's agenda, and it may also be the most difficult. Right now, the two parties differ as to how to replace it, with Republicans advocating for only spending cuts as offsets and Democrats seeking a mix of revenue and spending cuts. When it comes to the defense sequester, which is slated to reduce the defense budget by $490 billion over the next ten years, Democrats may be particularly wary of replacing defense cuts with cuts to non-defense programs.
Although the possibility of a US military strike on Syria is now in question, the possibility has also led to public statements regarding the relationship between defense priorities and the budget.