By Ramsey Cox
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) vowed Friday to replace cuts made to military retiree benefits in the budget deal Congress passed this week.
“We are screwing the military retirement community,” Graham said on the floor before the Senate adjourned for Christmas. “The bottom line is we’ll find $6.3 billion. … Reform will come one day, but it sure as hell won’t come this way.”
Many lawmakers became outraged when they heard about the cut, especially since it also applies to veterans with disabilities. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — who authored the budget deal with her House counterpart Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — said the effect on veterans with disabilities was a “technical error” that would be righted when Congress returns in January.
“I think it’s time for us to come together on a bipartisan basis and fix this,” Ayotte said. “I think when we come back in January this should be a number one priority for us.”
Despite calls from Ayotte and Graham, it is unlikely that a fix will be top priority when lawmakers return. Murray said Congress would have two years to find another $6 billion in savings since that provision of the deal doesn’t go into effect right away.
The Senate also agreed to confirm more than a dozen military nominees. Congress is required to send back to the White House all pending nominees at the end of the year. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tried to ask for unanimous consent to keep the nominees on the executive calendar for next year, but Graham objected.
Republicans are upset that Democrats unilaterally changed the Senate filibuster rules last month. Democrats can now advance most nominees with a simple majority vote rather than 60 votes.
Graham did however agree to Durbin’s unanimous consent agreement to confirm all of President Obama’s pending military nominees.