Viewpoint: Troops irked at lip service

Despite all the flag waving hoopla, such as when President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier just off San Diego, and all the gushing praise of our military, the troops are less than thrilled with this administration.

That is especially true of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That dissatisfaction was openly and bluntly expressed in a recent editorial in The Army Times.

The Army Times is the successor to The Stars and Stripes of World War II fame. That, you may recall, was where Bill Mauldin published his pointed cartoons of “Willie and Joe,” a couple of battle-weary GIs reflecting on the folly of war.

Willie and Joe would be appalled if they saw the treatment of our troops at the hands of the Bush crowd. The Army Times called it “nickel-and-dime treatment.”

“For example,” said the newspaper, “the White House griped that various pay-and-benefits incentives added to the 2004 defense budget by Congress are wasteful and unnecessary, including a modest proposal to double the $6,000 gratuity paid to families of troops who die on active duty. This comes at a time when Americans continue to die in Iraq at a rate of about one a day.”

So if you’re in uniform in Iraq or Afghanistan, your life is not worth $6,000 in the administration’s view. And that’s not all.

The Bush crew already announced that as of Oct. 1, it wants to roll back small increases in monthly imminent-danger pay from $225 to $150. The family-separation allowance also would be cut from $250 to $100. That’s for Americans getting shot at in combat zones.

While the compassionate conservatives rammed through hefty tax cuts for their wealthy friends, they somehow couldn’t find time to pass some lesser ones that would help military homeowners and reservists, who must travel long distances for training, as well as parents sent to combat zones.

This pettiness even reaches to basic pay. While the Bush defense budget for 2004 would grant higher raises for some ranks, it also would cap increases for enlisted men (E-1 and E-2) and officers (O-1) at 2 percent. The average raise is 4.1 percent.

The Senate wants no part of those provisions and rejected that part of the bill, while the House backs Bush. The Senate would grant 3.7 percent pay hikes at the minimum and greater raises for some others.

Bush’s latest slap in the face to our uniformed men and women is his $9.2 billion military construction request for 2004. The House Appropriations Committee’s military construction subcommittee has approved that figure, which is $1.5 billion less than this year’s budget.

To top that, the subcommittee voted to trim construction spending by an additional $41 million next year.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., tried to restore $1 billion of the cuts by paring down the recent tax cuts for the very rich; that is the approximately 200,000 Americans who earn more than $1 million a year.

He proposed to give them a tax break of $83,500 instead of the planned $88,300.

Republicans on the committee quickly killed that idea, and the prospects for any improvement do not look very good.

Some congressmen are angered by the administration’s attitude and actions. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, pointed to a House resolution last March that pledged unconditional support for service members and their families. He said, “American military men and women don’t deserve to be saluted with our words and insulted by our actions.”

The Army Times editorialist put it in a more direct and salty fashion. “Translation: Money talks, and we all know what walks.”

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