Senate starts consideration of veterans’ pension cuts

The Senate voted 94-0 Monday to end debate on whether to consider legislation that would repeal the $6 billion cut to military pensions.

Republicans made clear after Monday’s vote that they would not support the bill in its current form, however, without offsetting the $6 billion saved by the pension cut.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill he “can’t imagine” Republicans backing the bill unless a pay-for is identified.

“The other side just doesn’t seem to care about making the debt worse, and I don’t really get that,” Cornyn said.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) introduced S. 1963, which would repeal the $6 billion pension cut from the December 2013 budget deal that has come under harsh criticism.

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“There is no question that we need to cut our spending, but we must do it responsibly,” Pryor said. “We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our service members. … They lay their lives on the line for us.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he wants amendment votes on the floor to offset the legislation, but it’s unclear how many Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will allow.

“Congress should protect veterans who put their lives on the line,” Reid said Monday. “There is no reason to delay.”

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the two sides were trying to work out an agreement to begin considering amendments.  

In the budget deal, working-age veterans' cost-of-living retirement benefits would be reduced by one percentage-point below inflation starting in December 2015. The omnibus spending bill corrected the fact that disabled veterans' benefits were also cut, but some lawmakers have argued no current service member or veteran should see a reduction in cost-of-living increases.

“We’re considering legislation aimed to fix a problem that Congress and the president created only two short months ago,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said ahead of the vote. “Yet this Senate passed the bill anyway over my objections. … Now Senate Democrats are trying to claim credit for the very problem they created.”

Several lawmakers have put forward pay-fors. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has suggested reversing the pension cuts by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit, while some Democrats have targeted offshore tax loopholes, neither of which are likely to be agreed to by the other side.

"We need to rectify the wrong done to military people," Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said. "At the same time we need to find budget savings elsewhere."

Ayotte said Monday that she would be offering her proposal as an amendment to the Pryor bill.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced an omnibus veterans bill that also addresses the issue, paying for the pension fix by using funds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.