The Grand Swindle – Veterans on a Cliff

Richard Eskow

Every year our leaders honor our nation’s veterans with flags and parades. Are they also about to betray them this year with a backroom deal? Words won’t be enough this time. Our returning warriors need – and deserve – jobs, opportunity, and a thriving Social Security system that protects them and their families.

Bob Woodward obtained a copy of the deal the White House offered to Speaker of the House John Boehner last year. That proposal asked our nation’s vets to sacrifice for the luxuries of others once again It included cuts to TRICARE, the military health insurance program, which would have meant higher out-of-pocket medical costs for active and retired military personnel and their families.

The secret White House offer would have also cut Social Security payments for anyone receiving benefits today, along with everyone who’ll ever receive them in the future. As we noted last Veterans Day, disabled veterans rely on these payments. So do the survivors of soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.

Social Security doesn’t contribute to the national debt. Its minor funding problems were primarily caused by the fact that the top 1 percent of the country’s earners are capturing much more of the income than actuarial planners expected, while middle-class wages have stagnated. Since the bulk of top earners’ income is above the payroll tax cap, that has deprived Social Security of some expected revenue.

Last year we talked about the wounded and the fallen in our own family. Tens of millions of families have been through the same ordeal, and cuts to Social Security would affect them deeply.

Haven’t our wounded soldiers sacrificed enough? Would you ask more of a child who’s lost a father or mother than you would of millionaires and billionaires?

Social Security has also lost revenue because so many Americans are out of work, while many others can’t find full-time work or jobs that pay a decent wage. But in Washington’s fervor to declare a ‘fiscal cliff’ crisis, our leaders have continued to ignore the real crisis in the land: Americans don’t have decent jobs. Instead of helping them, they’re talking about a “Grand Bargain” that would lead to more layoffs instead – of teachers, first responders, postal workers, and other government employees.

John Boehner commemorated Veterans Day with a speech. “Saying ‘thank you’ is important,” the Speaker said, “but there’s always more that we the people can do for those whose sacrifices preserved the heritage of freedom.” He spoke these words six short weeks after Republicans on the Hill blocked a proposed Veterans Jobs Corps.

But then, they’ve blocked every jobs plan proposed in the last two years. And every time they do, veterans are among the millions who who pay the price. Yet Boehner spoke solemnly today, and with a straight face, about repaying them for their service. “We can work to make sure they can find work,” Boehner said.

The Speaker also promised to “look out for the families of the fallen” and “be every bit the patriots our founders were,” even as he reiterated his demands for cuts to Social Security and Medicare and re-asserted his opposition to tax increases for the wealthiest Americans.

The President gave a speech too, promising veterans that “you’ll be welcomed home to an America that will forever fight for you, just as hard as you’ve fought for us.” If he does he’ll be supported by the voters who returned him to the Oval Office.

As a new poll from the Democracy Corps and Campaign for America’s Future shows, voters overwhelmingly rejected the kind of proposal outlined in Woodward’s memo. They voted for the very same measures our best economists recommend: investment in jobs and growth, protection for Social Security and Medicare (also on the chopping block), and higher taxes for millionaires.

These voters have given the President and the Senate their assignment: Create jobs. Protect Social Security and Medicare. Ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. Take care of the neediest among us. And don’t focus on the deficit until the economy’s growing again.

Last year on Veterans’ Day we reflected on the members of our own family who fought in battle, including those who were wounded and those who never came back. And we reviewed a report which showed how much our veterans and their families depend on Social Security.

Our country honored its commitment to my family members when they made their sacrifices. Will our leaders break that promise to other veterans now, by denying them needed benefits and the chance to find good work?

Bob Woodward got a copy of this deal memo because somebody wanted him to have it. Is it a trial balloon to float another such proposal from the White House? Are the Republicans using it to signal that they’d take the deal now? Whatever the reasons, it’s too late: As the Greenberg poll confirms, the people have spoken. Will their leaders listen?

We told our soldiers they were risking their lives to protect democracy. It would be a bitter irony if they returned to a backroom deal that rejects the will of the people in such an undemocratic fashion.

It’s Veterans Day. The bunting’s been hung and the podiums have been built. The flags are waving and the marches are starting. Soon the speeches will begin.

But we still don’t know if our returning warriors have survived their battles just to be thrown over a ‘fiscal cliff’ by the leaders who have promised to honor and protect them.

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