DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
March 21, 1995

IT'S NOT WHAT OUR FOUNDING FATHERS HAD IN MIND

U.S. Army Sergeant Jack Gallagher retired after 28 years with three hot wars under his pistol belt: "The Big One," which included foxhole duty in Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany; and more of the same bullet-dodging drill in Korea and Vietnam. Between these fire fights, he manned Cold War outposts that fixed the Soviet Bear in its cage.

Jack's limp is from a slug taken at Anzio, made worse by a collision with an unmovable object on a drop zone at Fort Bragg; and the long scar across his lean 70-year-old face is from a shard of 82 millimeter mortar, compliments of a Viet Cong gunner. His grateful government pays him $8,568.00 per year, and a free visit to a veterans hospital whenever his battered body needs rewiring.

Being a soldier in the old "brown shoe days" when the maxim was, "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one," Jack lived in the barracks with his troops and never bought a house. On $714.00 a month, he doesn't have the scratch now to buy one, so he lives in a trailer park in the California desert -- which amounts to camping in a tin breadbox in the center of a blast furnace.

Tom Foley served his country, too. He went to the nation's capital as an outsider with empty pockets but high ideals. After 30 years in Greedland, he got sacked. He had lost touch with the people who sent him and had become an insider and a broker to the rich and powerful. Foley left government a fat cat, with a luxurious pad and self-granted retirement plan worth $2.65 million. His capital sidekick, George Mitchell, scored even better. He will draw nearly $7.9 million in tax-funded pensions.

Senators Edward Kennedy (D-ME) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), both millionaires before coming to Congress, belong to the taxpayer-provided retirement society, too. Their nest eggs are $3,127,089 and $1,152,402, respectively.

The pension plan of over 233 serving Republican and Democrat members of the House and Senate also puts them in the millionaire club. The high man on the totem pole is Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CN) with $4,966,900.00. The high woman is Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-CO) with $4,212,048.00, and "average American" Newt Gingrich's (R-GA) skimpy plan weighs in at only $1,661,924. No damn wonder he needed that $4.5 million book deal.

The total unfunded liability for these pork perks, according to government estimates, is more than $500 billion. You guessed it -- Joe and Jane Citizen will pick up the tab, as usual.

Our privileged congressional royals have awarded themselves pensions 70 percent higher and far more generous than those received by other federal employees, be they old warriors like Jack or your local postperson who gets those letters to you come rain or snow. These porker plans are even two to three times more lucrative than those in the private sector, and almost twice as large as those received by the high brass at Fortune 500 companies.

Perish the thought that inflation might gobble up our long-suffering servants' loot. In the dead of night, while you and I slept, these farseeing lawmakers protected their rich deals with cost-of-living adjustments.

There is talk around the slimy Hill of putting the Capitol gang on the same retirement package as all federal workers. But don't count on it; the reformers are the very congressional robbers who ripped us off in the first place.

I suppose it's always been this way in the town of the slick and the pig pen of the quick. Lawmakers take care of themselves, from delivered ice every morning to free gyms and parking spaces. Why not a plush retirement scam when you live like royals? Wish they'd look after our war veterans, like Jack, serving warriors and all of us average citizens as well as they take care of ol' No. 1.

The solution: a good slaughter every few years through term limits. If the porkers don't hang around the pig farm too long, they won't have the time to build such huge troughs.