A Government Big Enough…

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.

Lore and legend says Thomas Jefferson uttered these famous words. That’s in dispute; the quote is also attributed to President Ford, paraphrasing a mid-20th Century magazine that claimed to be quoting the nation’s second president.

Whoever said it, the axiom is a good reminder in our era of bipartisan government growth that at some point the well dries up and as another conservative said, you run out of other peoples’ money. The adage that big government can take away your livelihood in the blink of an eye is in the past couple days hitting home among America’s veterans.

Out of the freakshow of the bizarre-o that is Washington, a new ring has been added to the circus of federal budgeting, but it’s one about which we should all be concerned because it short changes the people who risk their lives as the rest of us wax our boats and lavish in air conditioned corporate office buildings.

Budget dealing of late cuts around $6 billion from the pensions paid to retired military. The vaunted Ryan-Murray budget compromise, of which this provision is a part, passed the House with a large bipartisan majority, but the pension cuts didn’t stir wide controversy until it came before the Senate.

According to CNN, “The deal cuts pension cost of living raises by one percentage point for military retirees who aren’t disabled and not yet 62 years old. Cost of living hikes are automatic raises intended to keep up with inflation.”

Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss) introduced an amendment to restore the cuts, with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) co-sponsoring. Sessions took the lead in rabble rousing, proposing to keep the budget’s bottom line by eliminating a child tax credit loophole that is taken advantage of by undocumented immigrants.

The Daily Caller reported “Sessions’ motion failed on a 46 to 54 party-line vote, with North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan crossing the aisle as the lone Democrat to vote with the Republicans….“Reid’s majority just voted to keep pension cut for vets instead of cutting welfare payments to illegal aliens,” a Sessions aide emailed.

But the freakshow has only just begun. As astutely noted by Slate, the ads are probably already being written attacking Democrats for the vote. But a Democratic Senate contingent likely more interested in protecting their lock on Hispanic voters – they’re obsessed with the electoral dimensions of demographics like ethnicity, gender, and skin color – than in restoring pension benefits for the military ought to have ads run against them.

Though the cuts seem on their face small, one wonders why and is angered over the fact that military pensions would be on the table at all. As Military Spouse magazine editor Babette Maxwell said, “the $7 billion in savings that this plan will generate doesn’t even cover the interest — the interest — in the additional expenses that this same bill authorizes.”

This spending isn’t an entitlement, it’s compensation promised to veterans for the dangerous work they perform or have performed. It’s part of the Constitutional duty of the federal government to protect the country from foreign enemies. On the other hand, the federal government does an awful lot that is not so explicitly outlined in the Supreme Law of the Land. Cut one of those things instead.

Back in Wisconsin, a peruser of social media will quickly feel the heat the GOP is taking from grassroots Republicans and veterans. Sen. Ron Johnson, who voted for the budget deal Wednesday, defended his vote on Fox News Wednesday, saying “I’m not going to defend cutting the military pensions. It’s outrageous that Sen. Harry Reid would not allow us to offer an amendment to take care of this.” Those amendments included the Sessions amendment and others.

“I’ll tell you why I voted for the compromise deal…it’s impossible to convey the dysfunction that is Washington and that’s in the United States Senate, and that dysfunction causes all kinds of economic harm.” Fox host Megyn Kelly praised Mr. Johnson for being the only senator with the courage to discuss the deal the night it passed the Senate.

Mr. Johnson assured Fox viewers that he’ll work to excise the pension cut, which doesn’t take effect for two years, giving politicians plenty of time to remove politically unpopular budget cuts like this one.

But it’s a cautionary tale for anyone, including the millions of people who work for government at any level or rely on payments from the government. A government big enough to give you all you need to live on is also big enough to pull the rug out from under you, to modify the uncredited quote.

In the meantime, there’ll be plenty of ads taking advantage of the situation next year, targeting Senate Democrats and maybe a handful of House Republicans.

It’s a freakshow.

About the writer: Chris Rochester has worked in communications and finance for a state Senate and congressional campaign, consulted on numerous Assembly and local races, and has held leadership roles in his local Republican Party. He's communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.