OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pension cuts repeal sent to Obama

The Topline: The Senate on Wednesday swiftly sent legislation to President Obama’s desk that repeals the $6 billion cut to military pensions.

The 95-3 vote wasn’t close — and little more than an afterthought in the Capitol after the dramatic debt-limit vote — as Congress reversed itself on a pension cut it had passed just two months ago as part of the December budget deal.

ADVERTISEMENT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took any potential for drama out of the equation when he opted to vote on the House-passed pension cut bill, and not the bill from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and other Democrats up for reelection that did not contain an offset.

The bill from House Republican leaders paid for reversing the pension reductions by extending the sequester for mandatory Medicare spending by one year, to 2024.

Reid had initially expressed opposition to the House bill on Tuesday, but changed his mind Wednesday and moved forward with the House measure as a snowstorm barreled toward Washington.

Neither party was crazy about the idea, but after two months of fighting about how to offset the cost-of-living repeals it was enough to get the bill over the finish line.

It helped that the offset in the House bill was the same one that Reid had proposed as a way to pay for an unemployment insurance extension last month.

“You don’t always get what you want,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, told The Hill. “It’s pretty hard to oppose it since it’s one of the things we proposed a month ago on unemployment.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he had issues with cutting Medicare funding, but didn’t think the cut would ever materialize.

“We’ll get it fixed,” Nelson told The Hill. “It’s all this funny money.” 

Carper, Flake, Coats vote 'no': Just three senators voted against the pension cuts repeal bill: Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.).

Flake went to the Senate floor to voice his opposition ahead of the vote, saying that he didn’t think Congress should be so quick to reverse deficit reduction measures it had enacted.

"When deficit reduction measures get signed into law, surely at some point we need to stand by them,” Flake said.

Coats, meanwhile, said in a statement after the vote that he was opposed to the offset that extended the Medicare sequester for a year — but not until 2024.

“Repealing these cuts today with only a promise to pay for it 10 years down the road is fiscally irresponsible and again delays making the hard choices needed to get our financial house in order,” Coats said.

Carper was the only senator to vote for the budget deal that put the pension cuts in place in December and vote against repealing them on Wednesday. A spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on why Carper voted "no."

Vets groups only claim partial victory: Veterans groups were undoubtedly happy that their lobbying had earned a clear victory with the repeal of the cost-of-living cuts passing both chambers this week.

But they weren’t totally satisfied because the repeal does not help future enlistees, only grandfathering in current service members and veterans.

“While we are pleased to see the restoration of retirement benefits for those who already have served, we are concerned that Congress has left future retirement cuts in place, and we will keep fighting until benefits for all who serve are restored,” said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA).

William Thien, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), was also mixed in his assessment of the bill.

“Future military retirees will be required to serve just as long and perhaps sacrifice even more than their predecessors,” Thien said. “It is in that regard that the VFW will continue to fight for a full repeal of the COLA penalty, and we hope that this vote will continue that conversation.”

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also said he was concerned that the bill doesn’t go as far as it should. But he still voted for the Senate bill on Wednesday. 

Afghanistan to release detainees Thursday morning: Over U.S. objections, Afghanistan is set to release 65 of 88 detainees that the U.S. says had a role in killing and wounding U.S. and coalition troops. 

Although Afghanistan announced it would release the detainees last month and earlier this week, it had not yet actually done so. According to the U.S. military command there, Afghanistan will release the prisoners Thursday morning. 

The U.S. military said detainees from this group of 65 are directly linked to attacks killing or wounding 32 U.S. or coalition personnel and 23 Afghan security personnel or civilians. 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) blasted the move. 

“The Karzai government is planning a mass release of 65 dangerous enemy combatants. These 65 individuals will be free to return to the battlefield and launch deadly attacks against US forces,” he said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. 

“All of the detainees are associated with groups with whom the US is at war, including the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network,” McKeon said. “I am, frankly, appalled by the Karzai Government’s complete lack of respect for our troops, men and women who are fighting to keep Afghanistan standing.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said those released could be targeted by U.S. troops. 

Lawmaker calls for hearing on Marine Corps Times episode: Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has called for a hearing to investigate why the Marine Corps decided to relocate the Marine Corps Times newspaper from the front of its commissaries and stores to a less prominent location. 

Jones called it a “blatant attempt to punish the Marine Corps Times for their articles investigating the questionable actions of the commandant” in the military trials of Marines who were prosecuted for urinating on Taliban corpses. 

“This attempt by the Marine Corps leadership to stand in the way of a free and open press is unacceptable,” said Jones. 

“The Marine Corps Times is a widely-read publication among members of our armed forces, as it provides them with critical information related to various aspects of their employment and service to our country,” he said.  

Jones is requesting all documentation surrounding the Marine Corps’ decision, which was reversed after only two days.  

 

In Case You Missed It:

— Benghazi: The Movie, coming soon

— Lawmakers want to see ‘black budget’

— Odierno: Army of 420K is ‘too small’

— GOP bills seek to clean house at VA

— House Dems back Obama on Iran

 

Please send tips and comments to Jeremy Herb, jherb@thehill.com, and Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @DEFCONHill, @JHerbTheHill, @kristina_wong

You can sign up to receive this overnight update via email on The Hill’s homepage