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Wicker: Long-term changes need for entitlement programs

 

Roger Wicker talks to Wil Colom after speaking at the Kiwanis Club in Columbus on Wednesday.

Roger Wicker talks to Wil Colom after speaking at the Kiwanis Club in Columbus on Wednesday.
Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Nathan Gregory

 

Roger Wicker is optimistic about cuts approved by the U.S. House and Senate in appropriation spending for 2014. In total, the federal government will appropriate $1.1 trillion this fiscal year. 

 

That's $135 billion less than it appropriated last year, $85 billion less than in 2012, $161 billion less than in 2011 and $183 billion less than in 2010, Wicker said. 

 

Yet, the national budget still suffers and has reached a deficit of $17 trillion, mostly because of increased federal spending, Wicker told Columbus Kiwanis Club members Wednesday. The major reason for the increase is the steady increase in the amount of Americans drawing from entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. 

 

"These are all programs that are important to Americans, but they're growing too fast, and we don't revisit the entitlement programs every year like we do appropriations," said Wicker, a member of the Senate's budget committee. 

 

One entitlement adjustment a majority of Congress was willing to agree on was a cost-of -living adjustment of minus-1 percent for the U.S. Military. This means up to an $80,000 pension hit for 20-year veteran who retires from the military at the age of 45, Wicker said. That alone was enough for him to vote against this year's entire budget package. 

 

"The federal government makes a promise to young servicemen and servicewomen. the promise has been if you sign on to the military... and you stay with us 20 years, you get a pension and we'll keep your pension up with inflation," Wicker said. "There's one entitlement Congress was able to touch, and it's the guy who signed on for worldwide duty in the military and we say, 'You can do with less.' To tell people who have done their part of the bargain and done everything the federal government and Department of Defense have asked them to do including serving with honor for 20 years, 'Now that you've done that, we're changing the rules on you,' I could not go along with that." 

 

Wicker said measures need to be taken to protect entitlement programs in the long term to prevent them from being discontinued. One of his proposals was to change the age retirees can begin to receive Social Security but do so in a way that doesn't affect those who are close to being eligible. 

 

"These are programs that to me, ought to be protected. My dad is on Social Security. My dad is on Medicare. These are programs that will not last for many more years unless we make small adjustment in the way they grow," he said. "It may be that I'm going to have to tell my 34-year-old daughter,'You're going to have to wait until age 67 for you to get on Medicare and get full benefits.' I might have to have that conversation with younger people in their 20s and 30s, but we don't need to pull the rug out from under people who are retired or about to retire." 

 

Mississippi's junior senator also took time out to rail on Obamacare, saying it misled Americans into thinking they had the option of keeping their health plans and doctors. 

 

"I go back to the federal government telling you one thing and then not keeping their part of the bargain. To me, it's just awful to have told the American people that if you like your health plan, you get to keep it," he said. "That's turned out not to be the case." 

 

The two-term senator has served in that role since Dec. 2007, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Haley Barbour to fill the seat vacated by Trent Lott. An officer in the United States Air Force from 1976-80 and member of the Air Force Reserve from 1980-2003, Wicker served in the Mississippi State Senate from 1987-94 and the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995-2007, where he represented the state's first congressional district.

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

 

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