By LEIGH MUNSIL
Retired Adm. Mike Mullen says the Defense Department should consider increasing the costs of some benefits for higher-earning retirees as a way to save money.
“I’m happy to be means-tested for my health care co-pays,” the former Joint Chiefs Chairman said Tuesday at an event on Capitol Hill. “I’m happy to be means-tested for other quote-unquote entitlements, if you will.”
If it made such changes, Congress should include a grandfather clause for current troops to keep whatever benefits they expected to receive when they signed up, Mullen cautioned, but it’s past time for the Pentagon to control the costs involved with future enlistees.
“I don’t want to hurt the 20-year staff sergeant who’s just bumping along — don’t touch individuals like that,” he said. “But those who can afford a little more need to pay a little more, as far as I’m concerned.”
Mullen spoke at an event of the Concerned Veterans for America, which said Tuesday it’s planning a media blitz about the need for budget cuts and getting control of the national debt — another big area of interest for Mullen. Concerned Veterans CEO Pete Hegseth said his group would try to become a consistent voice about the national security implications of the budget and the debt.
“We’re throwing three-quarters of a million dollars behind an effort to support policy makers who have come behind reform, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the types of things we’re going to do across the country,” he said.
CVA also will work with Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) as he formulates his recommendations for Pentagon acquisition reform, Hegseth said.
Mullen’s warning that the national debt is America’s biggest national security threat surprised the Beltway in 2010, but the former Joint Chiefs chairman said Tuesday that it’s truer today than ever.
“It was a random question a reporter asked me walking down the path on the way to the Pentagon,” Mullen said Tuesday. But his answer was deliberate.
“I’d actually given it quite a bit of thought. From a very strategic level I believe the military’s part of the solution to the problems around the world,” Mullen said. “But at a higher level it’s really about economies.”
The massive U.S. defense budget is just a drop in the bucket in national debt terms, Mullen said. He has described the debt as the biggest threat to national security — bigger than cyber-attacks or terrorism. And at $17.2 trillion, the national debt has risen more than $5 trillion since Mullen first issued his warning.
The U.S. needs to take the lead globally not just militarily but economically, Mullen said, and the national debt is hindering that ability. If Washington reduced the debt by controlling Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement costs, it would be a huge boost for its national security.
“We just can’t be the country that we’re capable of, at a time in the world that we’re needed as much as we’ve ever been needed, if we just keep spending ourselves into oblivion,” he said. “The Pentagon gets a lot of money, I understand that. It’s 50 percent of the discretionary spending roughly every year in the budget. But you could take the whole Pentagon budget, pour it into the debt and it would have a minimum impact. We’ve got to fix the entitlement piece.”