Issa backs repeal of military pension cuts

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House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is the latest lawmaker to introduce legislation that would repeal cuts to military pensions.

Issa’s bill would repeal the $6 billion saved through cutting military retirement benefits that was included in last month’s budget deal by limiting the U.S. Postal Service’s Saturday mail delivery.

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Issa is one of the highest profile lawmakers to join the effort to strip the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age military retirees from the budget deal reached by House and Senate Budget Chairs Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Patty Murray (D-Wis.).

The budget compromise, which provides $63 billion in sequester relief and $85 billion in deficit reduction over the next two years, quickly passed both chambers and was signed into law last month. But the provision cutting military retirement benefits has sparked a swift backlash from lawmakers in both parties, and a slew of bills have been introduced to repeal the pension cuts.

The military retirement cuts were a key element of the agreement, as civilian federal worker benefits were also targeted.

Veterans and service organizations are gearing up with defense hawks like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to launch a full-court press for repeal when Congress returns next week.

The budget deal would reduce the cost-of living adjustment for working age military retirees by 1 percent below inflation until retirees reach age 62. The pension cuts would take effect beginning in 2016.

House and Senate leadership have not said whether they plan to address the retirement cuts, and both Ryan and Murray have defended the provision in the budget deal.

Issa’s bill would replace the retirement benefit cuts with $17 billion in savings over 10 years by taking aim at Saturday mail delivery.

Issa, whose committee has jurisdiction over the cash-strapped Postal Service, has for years led the charge to limit Saturday delivery. The California Republican backed Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe's plan last year to stop six-day delivery of letters, while continuing Saturday delivery of packages.

But Donahoe backed away from that plan, which the agency estimates could raise around $2 billion a year, after facing sharp criticism from lawmakers who said that the Postal Service could not roll back six-day delivery unilaterally.

Congressional appropriators have for years kept a provision that seeks to block USPS from changing its delivery standards, something Issa has vowed to fight this year. Donahoe has also continued to urge lawmakers to pave the way for restraining six-day delivery.

Some top Democrats, including President Obama, have sounded open to reining in Saturday delivery, and polls have suggested that voters would support such a plan.

The Postal Service lost $5 billion in fiscal 2013 — down from $15.9 billion in 2012 — and has seen first-class mail volume decline in recent years.

But other Democrats and postal unions say the service shouldn't reduce services as it tries to raise revenues, and have questioned the amount of savings postal officials say they could get from changing delivery standards.

Issa's legislation goes beyond the $6 billion price tag of the military retirement cuts, which has proven to be a ripe target for lawmakers looking to undo the COLA reduction.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), for instance, introduced legislation that would replace the savings by closing corporate tax loopholes overseas, a non-starter for Republicans.

Ayotte has two bills to undo the cuts: one to close a loophole in the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program that allows recipients to receive additional food stamp benefits they would not otherwise be eligible for, the other to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving a child tax credit.