Our View: Entitlement reform demands courageous leaders

Amid all of the posturing, hand-wringing, finger-wagging — and in some cases, backpedaling — about cuts to military pensions in the recent federal budget deal, we point to this statement from Sen. John McCain:

"We cannot have continued increases in costs and benefits forever because of our inability to fund our national security. In other words, the dramatic increase in personnel and benefit costs are such that we really aren't going to have money left over for the mission, the equipment and the capabilities."

McCain, we'd argue, has more credibility on this topic than any other elected official in the nation. This war hero's take on military pensions isn't merely realistic and accurate — it's forward-thinking, predictive of future budget discussions that ultimately will affect every American, not just those who spend 20 years serving their country.

In short, McCain has declared that something's gotta give. Government won't be able to fulfill its core missions — defense, transportation, public health, food safety, law enforcement — if federal pensions, entitlements and popular tax breaks are deemed off-limits in budget discussions.

For decades, each time a lawmaker or group of lawmakers has attempted to tap the brakes on entitlements, they've instantly become targets. Any candidate for Congress or the White House who talks about increasing the Social Security retirement age or tightening the limits on the mortgage interest tax deduction is committing political suicide.


Plenty of people say they want a balanced federal budget, but when slightly painful ideas are floated to help pay the tab, they cry foul.

We have nothing but respect for the men and women who serve in our nation's military, and those who spend two decades in uniform have earned a good pension. But a 1 percent decrease in the annual cost-of-living adjustment doesn't seem entirely unreasonable, especially for able-bodied retirees who leave the service and put their experience to use as they start new careers.

Granted, there was one mistake in the pension adjustment, as it currently would apply to wounded, disabled veterans. This was an oversight that can and by all indications will be quickly corrected.

But Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have backed away from the pension reductions. They've joined about a dozen senators in support of the Military Retirement Restoration Act, which would restore fully restore the pensions. To cover the cost, they seek the elimination of a corporate loophole that allows companies managed and controlled in the United States to incorporate overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on their foreign income.

What's more alarming is the fact that Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington and one of the chief brokers of the budget deal, is herself having second thoughts. In recent days she's begun to describe the pension reductions as placeholder legislation. "We can and we will look at other, hopefully better ways to change this policy going forward," she said.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse America's economic course if our elected leaders back down so easily after making difficult-but-correct decisions.

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