Attacking the Patriot Penalty

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 16, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: When the military's Plan B is called up to serve, leaving home means leaving their day jobs. For many Reservists (search), that means a lot less money for the family back at home. How can we ease the financial pain while these patriots serve their country?

Our next guest has an idea. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh (search) is trying to get rid of what he calls the "Patriot Penalty."

Now Senator, I think you're onto something good here; a lot of people are going to be supporting this. You have these reservists who — let's just pick a number — may be making $75,000 a year in their real job, they go into reserve, they don't make $75,000 a year do they?

SEN. EVAN BAYH, D-IND.: No, John, they don't. As a matter of fact, we estimate that about 40 percent of the Reservists and Guardsmen and women who have been called up, and there have been more than 400,000 of them now, take a cut in pay: the average is about $3,000. Many of them unfortunately make a lot less than the $75,000 you just mentioned.

And John, it's just not right. Where they've been called up for more than six months, sometimes a year, year and a half, where their families now are having trouble paying their medical bills, making the mortgage payment, and to force them to choose between doing right by their family and doing right by our country just isn't something we should tolerate. And so, I proposed doing something about it.

GIBSON: Right. But what can you do?

Suppose somebody — and I saw this particular story on this channel, I think — where a guy ran his own business, he was a member of the Reserve, he was making about $100,000 a year. That is the level at which his family lived. They had a mortgage, they had cars. He goes off to reserve, he might be making $25,000 and his family's hurting, I mean really hurting: not making the mortgage, not making the car payments. You proposing to make it up?

BAYH: John, he is hurting. And others like him are hurting as well.

My proposal would solve this problem for 99 percent of those who've been called up by doing two things. First, for the individual that you mentioned, where he's called up for more than six months, which we think was not a reasonable expectation since that hadn't been done since before the Korean War (search), we would make up his wages up to the first $50,000.

So, we'd make up most of that gap for him. That covers about 99 percent of people. The second thing we would do is to offer a tax credit to employers to step up and do their part. Many of them are already doing this voluntarily, John, and we should compliment them.

But for private employers, we would provide a tax credit up to the first $30,000 in wages. So, for self-employed individuals, up to $50,000, for companies, up to $30,000 in terms of a tax credit.

GIBSON: And I suppose you've gotten some reaction from some of the Reservists about this, so what are you hearing back?

BAYH: Well, it's been very positive, John. It's heartbreaking when I hear anecdotal stories about Guardsmen and women, Reservists literally being forced into bankruptcy because they can't pay medical bills or the mortgage or the car payment. That's what's going on out there. It's just not right.

So, the feedback has been positive. There have been some at the Pentagon, have said, "Oh, this is going to cost some money; we can't afford it." But I'll tell you what, John, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the $80-some billion that we're asked to spend on Iraq.

Surely we can find it both in our hearts and in our budget to do right by these people that we placed in harm's way to defend our country, when their families are suffering.

GIBSON: Now, I would just give you carte blanche on this, but just by the way, what does it cost?

BAYH: Well, it costs a little more than a $1 billion, but that's money well spent, if it's what it takes, John. The other thing to remember here, the Reserves, the Guards are an important part of our national defense. And the evidence now is that the reenlistments and the new enlistments are down substantially.

The commander of the reserve forces described the Reserves as, "a broken force." So, if we want an active reserve, if we want a meaningful National Guard, this is something that we need to address, nor only for the benefit of the troops, but for the security of our country. It's money well spent.

GIBSON: Just a quick calculation, have you counted heads? Can you get this through?

BAYH: It's something that should enjoy broad bipartisan support. Quick answer to your question is no, but I'd like to see us put people up on the board, see how they vote on this. If we can get to that point, I think you'll see overwhelming support. Because again, it's just not right.

This is something we need to fix.

GIBSON: Now, Senator, I can't let you go without asking you something else.

All of this talk about 2008, as many times as I hear Hillary Clinton's name, I hear the name Senator Evan Bayh. What's the deal? Are you running or not?

BAYH: Well, John, I know that it's your job to ask that question. I need to do my job, which is to deal with issues like this patriot penalty and national security. What it takes to get our economy moving in a better direction.

We just had an inaugural. We just had an election. I'm sure you'd probably agree with this — people deserve a break. Let's focus upon the challenges that face this country. And if we take care of those, I think the politics will take care of itself and questions like yours can be answered in the fullness of time.

GIBSON: "Fullness of time." Good answer, Senator! I'll take that as not a no. Thanks very much. Senator Evan Bayh, appreciate you coming on.

BAYH: Thank you, John. Thank you.

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