By Derrick DePledge
Hanabusa was one of just 32 Democrats to vote against the deal. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard voted `yes."
While I thank my colleagues for coming together on a budget agreement, my core concern must be what is in the best interest of the people of Hawaii. Throughout my career serving our state, whenever I have faced a hard vote I have remained focused on my belief that government should keeps it promises. After reviewing the bill, I could not support it because it balances the budget on the backs of our kupuna, military retirees, federal employees, and families who cannot find work.
Several of the ways the bill pays for itself include extending the annual 2% sequester cuts on Medicare for an additional two years, requiring new federal workers to pay more toward their retirement, and reducing the retirement cost of living allowance for working-age military retirees.
Federal employees and retirees have already contributed nearly $114 billion toward deficit reduction in the form of pay freezes and increased pension contributions. It is unfair to ask them to do more.
Cutting the military retirement cost of living allowance also results in real financial losses to men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country. For example, an Army Sergeant First Class (E-7) retiring this year with 20 years of service would see an average loss of over $3,700 per year by the time he or she reaches age 62 – a cumulative loss of nearly $83,000. For a Lieutenant Colonel (O-5), the average annual loss would be over $6,200 – a cumulative loss of over $124,000. All of that is also in blatant disregard of the guiding principles to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), which includes a grandfather clause to protect current retirees and service members from any changes to their retirement.
The budget bill also increases aviation passenger security fees, which disproportionately impact Hawaii residents on interisland flights.
On top of failing to do away with sequestration or close even one loophole for the super wealthy and corporations, the bill does nothing to extend emergency unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans, including more than 20,000 veterans and parents with children. In Hawaii, 1,900 residents will lose their emergency unemployment benefits on December 28 if the program is not extended, and there is an additional 5,800 beneficiaries in Hawaii who could be affected when their current unemployment insurance benefits are exhausted.
We must focus on reducing our deficit in a responsible, balanced way that grows our economy, strengthens the middle class, and lifts sequestration.