Editorial: Military tuition assistance cut a play on the public’s sympathies

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In the wake of reduction in the growth of government spending mandated by sequestration, the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force decided last month to suspend tuition assistance for service members for the remainder of the fiscal year.

After a public outcry, it did not take more than a few weeks for congress to direct the services to continue funding the programs, which provide active and reserve servicemen with up to $4,500 per year to atend college. While the amount of money troops are allowed under the program is likely to be reduced, they will continue to be able to afford classes. The loss of this would have greatly affected the many reservists and guardsmen who attend EWU.

The military has long been well-insulated against budget worries. The fiscal conservatism of republicans in congress has not often been known to extend to defense spending, but that is beginning to change, and  the threat of sequestration has the Department of Defense looking to keep their funding on the rise.

The services are not actually facing a budget cut in any realistic sense of the term, but in the parlance of Washington, D.C., having the rate at which your budget grows slowed means budget cut.

That the Pentagon’s first response to sequestration was cutting tuition assistance highlights a vindictiveness that exists across the federal government. Like all government agencies, there is a large amount of waste that could be cut from the military. It can be done without affecting capability and readiness. It can also be done without hurting troops who are trying to further their education while serving their country and do not make much money in the first place.

For instance, the DOD could cut the $500 million spent annually on the military’s various ceremonial bands, or the millions spent on the 234 golf courses they operate. Or they could choose not to operate elementary schools on military installations that are sufficiently close to public schools. Instead, the services attempted to play the general public’s sympathy and admiration for the common soldier to their advantage, holding a portion of their benefits hostage in hopes that the outcry would force congress to throw more money at their already bloated budget.

While the sequestration may not be the best way to reduce spending, it is nowhere near the catastrophic event that the people who are in charge of spending our money have made it out to be. Defense spending, at an annual cost of over $700 billion, needs to be cut, and those cuts should be seen as an opportunity to streamline the services and reduce waste. They should not be met with a power play that takes from troops in a cynical ploy to force the American people to continue the upward spiral of spending.