Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why Won't Bush Support The Troops?

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Betty B Support Troops

This is what President Bush had to say about the now vetoed funding bill passed by a Democratic Congress:

I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need.

It appears that giving the troops what they need does not include little things like wages. As that same Democratically led Congress tries to get our troops a slightly higher wage increase, the response from the White House is a flat, "No."

The House was set to vote for a 3.5 percent basic pay increase for January 2008. That’s 0.5 percent higher than proposed by the Bush administration. The House would continue a string of annual raises set 0.5 percent higher than private sector wage growth through at least 2012.

A 3 percent raise next January would be enough to keep military pay competitive, said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in a “Statement of Administration Policy” on the bill, HR 1585, released May 16.


“When combined with the overall military benefit package, the President’s proposal provides a good quality of life for servicemembers and their families,” said the OMB letter to committee leaders.

Oh, really! A "good quality of life." As of now, the base pay for an E1, the lowest pay grade, is $15, 616.80 a year. I'm not going to factor in the BAH (Basic Housing Allowance) because that figure varies tremendously. Many salary estimates include them, resulting in inflated estimates. BAH varies based on number of dependents, if any, and location. And BAH is only paid to those troops who maintain off-base housing. In other words, if you're deployed into a war zone, and have no dependents requiring housing, you receive no BAH.

Basic Allowances for Housing (BAH) can vary from as much as $3,464 monthly for married officers in an expensive location (such as San Francisco) to a low of $428 monthly for a single enlisted E-1 living in a less expensive location. Basic Allowance for Housing rates, or BAH rates, are determined by surveys of the civilian housing market in over 350 U.S. locations. In 2006, BAH rates increased by 4.4 percent, ranging from $1,429.20 monthly for a general to $285.30 for an E-1 without dependents.

Having lived with my Marine Corps Officer husband in one of those more expensive areas, I can tell you that the BAH is frequently inadequate to cover true housing costs.

There are other factors that add to the base pay, such as combat and hazardous duty pay, for those troops who are deployed into a war zone, but no matter how you slice it, our troops are paid less than the average teacher. And while I think teachers are hideously underpaid for their labors, they are not uprooted every couple of years -- which severely limits the earning potential of non-military spouses -- nor does their job involve taking enemy fire... generally speaking.

Congressional Democrats want to see our currently very strained troops receive fairer compensation.

Top Democratic leaders vowed to continue their efforts to enact a larger raise, arguing that members of the armed forces and their families deserve annual pay raises higher than the private sector due to the dangers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, in a move unsurprising to those of us who have been actively observing Bush Administration policy, the White House is endeavoring to put the kibosh on any thought of even this nominally higher pay increase.

As I have said many times, the lavish funding the Pentagon receives does not trickle down to the men and women who are actually putting their lives on the line. It goes to the care and feeding of the the military-industrial complex.

Congress often adds money to the annual White House spending request for military programs. Yet the newly elected Congress, which is controlled by Democrats, has placed more emphasis on increasing funding for military personnel than for weapons programs such as missile defense systems, according to MacKenzie Eaglen , a national security specialist at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning public policy think tank.

"This bill [passed by the House] promotes the softer spending -- such as healthcare, compensation, and readiness -- rather than equipment and weapons," she said.

She said she worries, like the White House, that too much spending on compensation and other personnel costs could unduly drain funding from vital weapons systems.

Worse. The companies making billions in Pentagon contracts are not necessarily those who build the better mouse trap. They're the ones with the best political connections. Which is why, for instance, the Osprey is still flying clumsily along and why Dragon Skin body armor loses out to Interceptor from Armor Holdings. (Hat-tip: occams hatchet) So while people like, say George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, line their pockets, our troops are making crap wages to take enemy fire in insufficient body armor.

In addition to its desire to keep military pay raises to a minimum, the Bush White House has expressed an interest in raising the Tri-Care (health insurance) fees and eliminating drug price controls for retired military. Because, you know, our veterans don't get fucked badly enough now.

None of these cynical maneuvers should come as a shock. This is the same Administration that cut its funding request in half for research on and treatment of the signature injury of our current conflict; brain damage. It's the same Administration that slashed impact aid funding, which pays for the education of children of military families, at the outset of the war in Iraq. It's the same Administration that turns a blind eye to Iraq Vets who return to the US to live on the streets. Here is but a partial list of funding cuts for both active duty and veterans advocated by the Bush Administration. Remember that next time Bush scolds his detractors for failing to support the troops.