A Republican TV ad in Illinois features indignant veterans scolding a Democratic House member about cuts to “veterans benefits” that never happened.
The ad features four men it identifies as Army and Navy veterans. “We risked our lives. … We put it all on the line. … How could you cut our benefits?” they ask of Rep. Cheri Bustos, after chastising her for voting for a $6 billion cut in “veterans benefits.” They add, “How could you? Shame on you.”
In fact, the cut in question was not a reduction in veterans benefits at all, but rather a cut in the pensions of military retirees. Further, the reduction was one part of a bipartisan budget deal that averted another government shutdown last December. And more important, Bustos was among the many House and Senate members of both parties who voted to repeal the cut a few weeks later, a fact the ad fails to mention.
The ad began running Sept. 16 and is sponsored by former Rep. Bobby Schilling, the Republican whom Bustos defeated in 2012 and who is now trying to reclaim his old seat in the 17th Congressional District.
The ad refers to the bill introduced last Dec. 10 by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chairs of their respective budget committees in the House and Senate. Ryan, who was also the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012, said at the time: “I’m proud of this agreement. It reduces the deficit — without raising taxes. … I ask all my colleagues in the House to support it.”
And the deal was approved overwhelmingly, by a vote of 332 to 94 in the House on Dec. 12, 2013, with 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats voting in favor. The Senate followed suit a few days later, passing the package on Dec. 18 by a vote of 64 to 36. This time, all 55 members of the Democratic caucus voted in favor, but only nine Republicans did so.
The deal avoided any tax increase or revisions to Social Security, Medicare or other major entitlement programs, and restored some earlier “sequester” cuts to the military budget. But one of the offsetting cuts was a reduction in future cost-of-living adjustments to the pensions of military retirees that would cut spending by an estimated $6.2 billion over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2016.
That would have affected about 750,000 military retirees, only a small fraction of the roughly 22 million that the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates have served in the U.S. armed forces. So the large majority of veterans would not have been affected.
Nevertheless, the pension cut quickly drew fire from military and veterans groups, prompting a rapid retreat by Congress. The House voted Feb. 11 to restore the old cost-of-living formula for all who had signed up for military service prior to 2014. The vote was 326 to 90, and Bustos was among the 120 Democrats who voted in favor. The next day, the Senate voted 95 to 3 for final passage, and the president signed the repeal into law on Feb. 15.
Given all that, we find the ad to be shamefully misleading. The man in the ad who says, “Shame on you, Congresswoman Bustos,” might accurately have said instead, “Thank you, Congresswoman Bustos, for restoring our full military pensions.”
— Brooks Jackson