Week ahead: Senate to tackle military pension cuts

The Senate will vote this week on whether to repeal the $6 billion cut to military pensions that was included in the December budget deal.

The Senate is holding a cloture vote Monday to proceed to debate on a bill that would repeal the controversial cuts, which would reduce the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age military retirees by 1 percent point below inflation annually.

The bill from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in 2014 — is no sure thing, despite the desire from lawmakers in both parties to reverse the COLA cuts.

That’s because Pryor’s bill does not identify an offset to pay for the savings achieved by the pension cuts, which has been the sticking point that’s prevented Congress from acting so far.

Another bill that could be considered on the floor this week would also repeal the COLA cuts.

Republicans are objecting to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) veterans affairs measure because it offsets the pension cut and its other expenses by taking $20 billion in funding from Overseas Contingency Operations.

They say Sanders’s money isn’t real money because it is intended for overseas wars and is not subject to budgetary spending caps.

Republicans are drafting an alternative veterans bill to Sanders’s measure, making the prospects of passage dicey for either bill.

The Senate also could vote this week on dueling bills from two Senate Democrats over the best way to tackle the issue of sexual assault in the military.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) controversial proposal to take sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command has the support of 53 senators, but is vehemently opposed by the Pentagon, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Gillibrand argues that taking the decision to prosecute cases away from commanders is necessary to increase reporting of sexual assault because victims don’t report now for fear of retaliation.

Her opponents say Gillibrand’s bill would not lead to more prosecutions, arguing that commanders need to keep the ability to prosecute so they can change the military’s culture.

Gillibrand will probably need 60 votes for her measure to overcome a filibuster. The competing measure from McCaskill — which would build on the reforms included in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act — is not considered controversial and should pass easily.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday will be a holding confirmation hearing for two senior Pentagon nominees: Robert Work as deputy Defense secretary and Michael McCord as comptroller.

The Pentagon announced Friday that Work had been tapped to be the No. 2 official at the Pentagon, where he would succeed the recently departed Ash Carter. McCord has been selected to succeed the Pentagon’s longtime comptroller, Bob Hale.

The Armed Services Committee will also hold its annual global threats hearing on Tuesday, where Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will testify.

On the House side, the Armed Services panel is holding a hearing Tuesday on the U.S. security policy and defense posture in the Middle East. Officials from the Pentagon and State Department will appear before the committee.

On Wednesday, the Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing on overcoming obstacles in acquisition reform.