US military eyes cuts to pay and benefits

For years, many perks of armed service have been spared from budget slashes. That may change under a new plan from top commanders.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 18, 2013 4:31PM
Image: Military Man (© Stockbyte/SuperStock)By Julian E. Barnes, The Wall Street Journal

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- The U.S. military's top commanders, groping for ways to cope with a shrinking Pentagon budget, have agreed to a plan that would curb the growth of pay and benefits for housing, education and health -- prized features of military life that for years have been spared from cuts.


Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a weekend interview that without such changes, the cost of military personnel would soon rise to 60% from about half of the defense budget.


"What we have asked these young men and women to do over the last 10 years, we can't pay them enough," Dempsey said during a conference at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. "Having said that, we also have an institution to manage."


Military officials haven't revealed details of the plan, which still must be approved by the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Barack Obama before it is sent to Congress for approval.


Dempsey said the chiefs would unveil the changes when the proposed military budget is released in February. He said the new plan wouldn't immediately cut the benefits received by service members or retirees.


Over the past nine months, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been analyzing military compensation -- from pay and health benefits to housing allowances to the discounted prices at base commissaries.


Previous efforts to curb benefits have met stiff opposition from veterans groups and lawmakers. Gen. Dempsey said the military's previous efforts to change compensation were flawed because they were one-year fixes. The new approach would offer a multiyear plan to slow the growth of military compensation.


The Pentagon will make a persuasive argument to lawmakers that the changes are needed to balance the budget and fair to troops, Gen. Dempsey said.


"We have the analytic tools that potentially we didn't have before," he said. "We have a body of knowledge that has convinced us doing it once is the right answer."

Lawmakers are far from certain about the plan.


"Last year Congress established a compensation review commission to look at this issue, and we have not yet received their feedback," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "I would like to see how much we can get out of institutional reform before we look at cutting benefits for the troops."


Without curbs on compensation-spending growth, there will be too little money for building new weapons systems or training forces in 10 years, Gen. Dempsey said during the interview Saturday.


Off the table for now are changes in the retirement system. Because the military hopes to allow current service members to keep their existing retirement plans, it will be two decades until any savings from changes in military retirement are realized, making shifts in the program less urgent.


Gen. Dempsey made his comments on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum.


During the conference, current and former Defense officials, as well as members of Congress, spoke about the need to approve Pentagon budgets and lift the across-the-board government spending cuts known as the sequester.


"You can't expect this country to maintain a strong military if we aren't maintaining some kind of common-sense budgeting," Leon Panetta, the former Defense secretary, said at the forum. "We are sending a message that the United States is going to be weak and that is the wrong message to send."


If Congress doesn't agree to lift the sequester, the Pentagon faces $52 billion in cuts in January. About $41 billion was cut this year from military spending.


Panetta's successor, Hagel, said in a speech that the military's ability to respond to crises was impaired by budget cuts.


"Inevitably, we are shrinking the size of the force that is ready and available to meet new contingencies or respond to crises across the globe," Hagel said.


Dempsey said in the interview that if the sequester stayed in place, a large number of military units wouldn't be ready for war or other duties. Under the sequester, the military in five years will be without the necessary depth to tap in the event of unforeseen crises, he said.


"You have just what you need," Dempsey said. "But my view of the future is, just what you need is not enough."


More from The Wall Street Journal

676Comments
Nov 18, 2013 5:20PM
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There shouldn't be any cuts considered for our military personnel.  The only ones they should be thinking of cutting benefits for are the members of the House and Senate.
Nov 18, 2013 4:59PM
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So, instead of cutting waste, foreign aid, and benefits for illegal aliens, we're going after the EARNED benefits of our brave military!? How typical of this sad administration! Bend over American soldiers!, HERE COMES BARRY AND HIS LIBERAL COURT JESTERS!
Nov 18, 2013 5:04PM
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It's ashame that the real terrorist are in Washington D.C.
Nov 18, 2013 5:22PM
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Ridiculous! These greedy politicians will cut food-stamps for poor people, now pay and benefit cuts for military members, but they themselves won't cut THEIR wages a bit. Vultures!
Nov 18, 2013 5:00PM
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I am in favor or spending more on the soldiers themselves rather than the defense contractors and all the weapons we pay for.
Nov 18, 2013 5:33PM
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Better yet, why not cut the cost of what we are paying those sorry A$$ congressmen and Women that we elected into office. I am a Veteran and find it appalling that such a suggestion is even thinkable. But once again the "Elected" people that have never had to serve will never truly understand what it means to go thru what we went thru, 1. Being away from our families for 9-18 months 2. Constant moving every 3-5 years. and lastly, the horrible base housing at some bases (I.E Baumholder Germany). Its more than a slap to the face, they are spitting on us and then kicking us while we are down. God forbid going to the VA clinic and being seen at your scheduled appointment time, I  forgo that all together just because I cant afford to miss a whole day of work. I agree with Daniel Colt, cut out the foreign aid and etc, lets get us back on track and being the "SUPER POWER" we once were.
Nov 18, 2013 5:04PM
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Dumb. Cut their PX benefits so they can go on food stamps! What they need to do is get rid of some of the upper-echelon career military, who cost us so much in perks and retirement, not the little people who actually do the fighting, patrolling, paper pushing.
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President Obama is the head of the Military.  He and the rest of the Chain of Command should take the equivilent percentage pay cut an E-2 Private is given.
Nov 18, 2013 4:59PM
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The majority of money the military spends is on feather-merchants and contractors. Start your cutting there!
Nov 18, 2013 5:12PM
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How can you take from those who have fought for us so that we can be free to sit here and take from them?
Nov 18, 2013 5:25PM
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I do contract work for some military installations. Cutting benefits for the troops gets my anger up quite high.

The waste in the military involving all branches of the military with procurement and utilization is staggering. If they would bring their system into the 21st century they would not need to cut any benefits. Their usual response is this is how we have always done it. Disgusting.

Nov 18, 2013 5:35PM
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My God! Spend a trillion on a fighter that won't fly in the rain and consider reducing pay and benefits for servicemen and women? Sheeesh!
Nov 18, 2013 5:15PM
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Hey, Mr. Herbert. Where in the hell would you be if it hadn't been and wasn't for my brothers in arms?

 I was in three wars to make sure your sorry a$$ stayed free. I pray that our paths never cross as I couldn't stand the smell!!

Nov 18, 2013 6:55PM
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DISGRACEFUL. No cuts to welfare or illegal's ? What happened to this country ?
Nov 18, 2013 5:33PM
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The only thing worth paying in the military are those who actually put boots on the ground.  Eliminate waste, fraud, graft, corruption and the military would have more money than they know what to do with.  Eisenhower was no fool: "Beware the military industrial complex."

As it is now, we have petulant boys playing with million and billion dollar toys and they pad what they "need" in order to be afford the "amenities."  Seriously--how many mistresses does one need?

Nov 18, 2013 5:32PM
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I'm sorry but the ;last thing we need to do is cut benefits from our military forces. Since 2003 I have been running a site helping Military families in need who due to circumstances mostly by the military their families are faced with lack of food, clothing, shelter. Have lost their homes, cars and more. This is 11/18 already I have over 385 families asking for help for food an even toys for their children they cant afford. And we are pondering cut backs on our military personnel who have to wait months for their disability approvals et al. Truthfully I served and I have travelled to may third world countries. What we have done to our country has made us the laughing stock of the world, its true professors should teach because they can not do. It takes compassion and clear headed intelligence to run a country not leftist ideology leading us to the debacle England endured. For now if you want to help a family in need visit www.adusa.com/Famneeds.htm  help a needy military family now. Thank you
Nov 18, 2013 5:09PM
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I think it is time to evaluate the gross over pay to so many in the upper echelon of the work force. 
 
People are still starving in the good 'ol USA and yet there are people making money to the point that they could wipe their arses with it and it would not be detrimental to them.

Good luck with your survival people...
Nov 18, 2013 4:54PM
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The military can no longer expand quickly times of trouble, because the technologies and the levels of expertise involved are too high to allow for the kind of rapid expansion that was seen in WWII.  Beyond that that, the industrial base has been eroded.  Much of what is left will not be able to withstand an extended period during which manufacture of existing systems and development of next generation systems is curtailed.  We are headed for serious trouble.  The world is a much smaller place than it was even twenty years ago, but the Administration does not care because the fruit of these seeds will not be harvested during its time in office.

Nov 18, 2013 6:56PM
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Cutting benefits for those with "war time" experience; that is patriotic hatred.  I served regular army from 77-83 (basically peace time).  Cut benefits to me but not to soldiers who have risked their lives for this country and tangentially put their families through hardship...douchebag politicians!!!
Nov 18, 2013 7:15PM
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Pay US citizens & taxpayers first. THEN, if any money is lest over, we can dole out foreign aid. We have too many homeless & starving US citizens to take care off before we give to illegal aliens & others.
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