Sunday, February 10, 2008

Playing Military Families Like Pawns - it's what aWol does best

Our military families also sacrifice for America. They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of providing for children while a loved one is serving far from home. We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to child care, creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government, and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children. (Applause.) Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation, and tonight our nation honors them. --George W. Bush, 28 January 2008, State of the Union

That passage drew thunderous applause when the President said it during the State of the Union address. Yet a week later, when the current occupant sent his $3.1 trillion dollar budget to the congress for approval, there wasn’t a single dollar allocated for the program subscribed in the SOTU - even though the cost of the proposal would run between $1 and $2 Billion annually.

Congressional critics have pointed to the episode as a visual aid that illustrates precisely what they perceive as the slapdash, slipshod manner in which Bush threw together the legislative priorities for his final year in office limp toward the finish line. The idea Bush touted has actually been introduced as legislation by congresspersons of both parties. "It has some merit to it. I don't have any idea what it costs -- that's been one of the problems in the past," said Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), chairman of the House Budget Committee. "That's not the only inconsistency or contradiction in his budget by any means. The budget overstates revenues and understates expenditures in a big way."

Two other topics were touched on in the speech and deserve to be funded: Child care for military families, and programs to help military spouses compete for government jobs. Think about it -military spouses are almost all, by definition, capable, reliable, top-shelf employees with valuable diverse experiences, and frequently they bring critical language skills. But they stagnate in careers because every two years it’s another entry level job that the spouse won’t be on long enough to become vested, or to advance up the corporate ladder. The portable nature of federal jobs from one billet to another is well known and many spouses have shrewdly finagled that set-up of their own devises.

It’s about time that the government got around to promoting a common-sense measure to help military families achieve economic parity with civilian counterparts that those of us who have lived it have known for decades and struggled to make work without any help from the military nor the agencies employing the civilian spouse.

But the feds aren’t going to employ all spouses, so once we get those ducks in a row, we need to talk about setting up federally administered retirement plans for civilian spouses of career military personnel that would encourage civilian employers, through the tax code, to match contributions and make exceptions for military spouses to the time-on-job rules that govern whether or not military spouses retain the employers matching contributions when they leave a job because the military spouse is transferred.

Military spouses do serve and sacrifice to support the mission. Recognizing this and greasing the economic skids a little by taking into account the professional price paid by the spouses would be a good start.

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