Shaheen bill would reverse military cuts

A Democratic senator is joining the effort to block the cuts to military pensions that were included in the congressional budget deal.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is introducing legislation Tuesday that would replace the $6 billion saved in the budget deal through cuts to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age military retirees.

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Shaheen’s bill adds to the effort from a group of Republicans on the Armed Services Committee to remove the retirement benefits cuts from the budget deal, which the Senate voted Tuesday to end debate on in a 67-33 vote.

The agreement reached by the Budget Committee chairmen provides $63 billion of sequester relief over two years, including $31 billion to the Pentagon, while saving $85 billion, including the $6 billion targeting military pensions.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) held a press conference Tuesday with military service and veterans groups slamming the decision to include military pensions in the deal, and vowing to replace the cuts.

At this point, however, it doesn’t look like the lawmakers from the two parties are coming together to propose a solution to find $6 billion to replace the retirement benefit cuts.

Shaheen’s legislation would find the necessary savings by closing overseas corporate tax loopholes, a proposal that is a nonstarter among Republicans.

Ayotte has proposed two amendments to offset the military retirement cuts. One would close an alleged loophole in the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that allows recipients to receive additional food stamp benefits they would not otherwise be eligible for, and the other prevents illegal immigrants from receiving a child tax credit.

Wicker also has an amendment that repeals the military retirement cuts without offsetting the $6 billion saved from it.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) says his committee will review the changes to military retirement benefits early next year.

The bill reduced the COLA increase by 1 percent below inflation for working-age military retirees under age 62, a change that would fully take effect in 2016.

While Ayotte, Graham and Wicker voted against the budget deal, Shaheen voted for it, despite the inclusion of military retirement cuts, which drew an attack from the New Hampshire Republican Party Tuesday.

The New Hampshire GOP accused Shaheen, who is up for reelection in 2014, of introducing the measure as a “desperate, election-year stunt.”

“It is disingenuous for Sen. Shaheen to continually vote to enact bad policies, and then hide behind empty and ineffective attempts to undo the damage caused by her actions,” the state GOP said in a statement.

— This story was updated at 5:34 p.m.