Rep. Robert Wittman (AP)
The Defense Department has won an important congressional convert in its push to cut military and retiree benefits to save money.
In what could mark a turning point in the efforts of Pentagon officials to sell Congress on cutting benefits, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., who oversees about two-fifths of the defense budget in his role as chairman of the House Armed Service Committee’s readiness panel, said he is ready to consider cutting the compensation package for future troops in order to secure funding for other programs.
In an interview that aired Sept. 15 on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program, Wittman said he does not support compensation or benefits reductions for currently serving members but would consider changes in pay, health care and retirement for people who have not yet started military service.
“I think that is a place we can go,” he said. “I am very much in favor of this discussion.”
He would not touch the system for current troops because “we have a moral commitment” to people who entered with the promise of certain benefits.
Asked if he considered current benefits overly generous, Wittman replied: “I think it is generous. I think it is fair for what our men and women have been asked to do.” Wittman said he did not think future troops would be any less dedicated, but that he believed it was fair to provide fewer benefits as long as the future members understood the compensation package they were getting.
Wittman’s district in Virginia encompasses Marine Corps Base Quantico, Fort A.P. Hill, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren and Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, installations with a combined work force of about 16,000 federal civilians and 8,000 active-duty service members.
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan Jr. of the Military Officers Association of America said his organization appreciates Wittman’s support for protecting benefits for current service members.
“However, when it comes to cutting career benefits for future entrants, the current retirement and health care benefit are the key pillars in order to sustain a dedicated and top quality career force,” he said.
Ryan recalled that when Congress last reduced retired pay, lawmakers repealed the cut 14 years later after complaints from the Joint Chiefs that it was hurting recruiting and retention.
Speaking before the Air Force Association on Sept. 18, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Winnefeld continued to make the case for cutting benefits for future troops, although he acknowledged likely opposition.
“While everyone here would agree that our magnificent men and women in uniform deserve more than the average bear, we simply cannot sustain our recent growth trajectory in pay and benefits and expect to preserve a properly sized, trained and equipped force,” Winnefeld said.
“Some will fight some of these needed changes, but I would ask you to stand up and understand that the most important benefit we can provide for our people is to train and equip them to fly, fight and win and come home safely to their families,” he said.