This might have been one of the fastest "What were we thinking?" turnarounds in modern political history.
A piece of federal legislation passed late last year is dead after less than two months, and few are mourning it -- including most of those whose names were on it in the first place. In a 95-3 Senate vote on Wednesday, just a day after a similarly overwhelming House vote, Congress repealed a measure that would have cut cost-of-living pension increases for hundreds of thousands of military veterans. The legislation that Wednesday's vote repealed would have held annual cost of living increases to 1 percentage point below the inflation rate, beginning next year.
The Pentagon, like other government departments, is facing steep budget cuts. And like just about every other organization, public or private, the number one cost comes from people -- pay and/or benefits. This cost of living cutback supposedly would have saved the government $7 billion over the next decade, and that's a lot of money.
But at what ultimate cost? This reversal, especially in an election year, is being attributed largely to the political clout of veterans and the organizations that represent them, and that is definitely a huge part of the story. But not all of it.
There's also, we suspect, a growing public backlash, even in fiscally challenging times, against the sometimes dismissive, even abusive, treatment of veterans by the same government that has shipped them off to fight and die in hostile lands, sometimes in wars prompted as much by politics as by national security. It's a pattern that has made our politically mandatory rhetoric about "supporting the troops" sound mockingly hollow.
It should be noted that the veterans this cutback would have affected are not the ones who served a hitch or two and soon moved on to civilian careers. These pensions are paid to vets who retire after 20 or more years of service, at whatever age. The Associated Press calculated the effect on a 42-year-old sergeant first class who retired after 20 years: a loss of some $72,000 in pension.
The Pentagon says about 840,000 of the pension-eligible retirees are younger than 62, and thus would have lost thousands of dollars if the December legislation were left in place.
The politics of this sequence of events will no doubt play out between now and the elections; ultimately, the political ramifications are irrelevant. Congress on Wednesday corrected a bipartisan act of legislative recklessness, one that would have come at the expense of Americans who have devoted 20 or more years of their lives in service to this country.
"It is the wrong priority," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., "for America to single out those who have taken the bullets for us."