The Administration’s 2008 defense budget request includes savings the Pentagon expects to get from raising Tricare fees for military retirees. Yes, this is the same issue Congress shot down—temporarily—last year. Of particular concern to lawmakers now is the presumption that the Congressionally chartered military health care task force may not be so independent. At a House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing last week, panel chairman Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) questioned whether the budget language “has poisoned the water” for the task force since its final report isn’t due until December. In response, William Winkerwerder, the Pentagon’s top health official, asserted that the task force members are “strong-minded, strong-willed, very bright individuals” who will “say whatever they think.” Of course, as ranking member Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) pointed out the Pentagon request “assumes savings of $1.9 billion,” so he wants to know what about the “backup plan.” Winkenwerder did not elaborate, only saying there are “some approaches that we would and could take.”
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.