In the latest round of talks for the upcoming defense spending bill, Republicans are once again trying to slice away big spending chunks to pay for their subsidies to multinational defense corporations – but this time, they’re taking aim at our soldiers’ housing and ignoring the loud and furious protests from the Pentagon. Hidden away in the enormous document are changes to the military’s housing compensation program that would deny our fighting men and women a crucial source of extra income – but Senate Republicans want to nickel-and-dime them anyway while shrugging off enormously expensive purchases in materiel and defense contracts.
Mother Jones details how the current housing allowance system works as follows:
Service members who don’t live in barracks receive a monthly stipend called Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). Right now, it’s a simple, flat-rate (and tax-free) cash payment that’s handed out according to soldiers’ rank, the cost of housing where they live, and whether or not they have dependents. Under current rules, service members are free to rent cheap apartments and pocket the leftover cash, or they can share housing while each getting a full allowance—a popular way for single soldiers and “dual military” couples to offset low military pay. The stipends range from a little over $600 a month for an unmarried private to more than $5,000 a month for a high-ranking officer with dependents.
But under the new rules, soldiers would no longer be able to pocket the unused portion of their allowance, instead creating another layer of bureaucracy and forcing soldiers to provide minute details of their housing expenses. The changes would create savings of $2 billion over the next five years, which is a literal drop in the bucket for the military’s gargantuan $600 billion-a-year budget.
The move literally takes money out of our underpaid soldiers’ pockets in the name of fiscal austerity. Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, remarks that “it kind of baffles me. They’re cutting back on exactly the types of compensation that people value most [and] ignoring the elephant in the room…it’s not the kind of reform that’s going to put the military compensation system on a more sustainable trajectory.”
It is an appalling slap in the face to the brave volunteers in our armed forces, who risk their lives and limbs to fight the interminable overseas wars that Senate Republicans are constantly trying to escalate. But apparently Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the rest of the warmongers in the Senate would rather take away an important source of extra income for those who serve while throwing another ten billion dollars to purchase sixty-three F-35 fighter jets, the utility and effectiveness of which is still very much in question.
While we do not wish to discount the importance of the United States having a strong airforce, we do take strong issue with the Senate Republicans’ decision to take money out of the pockets of our fighting men while hypocritically using our military as a patriotic political prop in the press. It’s no coincidence that whenever the Republican Party moans and cries about government spending, it’s always the American people who must bear the brunt of the cuts – never the multinational corporations that fill GOP campaign war chests but hold allegiance to nobody except the pursuit of bigger profits.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.