One in three lawmakers wants to repeal cuts to military pensions

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More than 150 House members and 35 senators have signed onto efforts to repeal the cuts to military pensions included in the budget deal signed last month.

Roughly a third of lawmakers in both chambers have sponsored or co-sponsored 15 different bills. All the measures seek, one way or another, to repeal the reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age military retirees.

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The flurry of bills and number of co-sponsors highlights the sizable bipartisan opposition to the military retirement cuts that were included in the budget deal reached by Budget Chairs Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

But none of the bills introduced has identified a true bipartisan “pay-for” to replace the retirement cuts, raising doubts about the chances of any of them passing.

The only legislation that has attracted significant bipartisan support does not replace the $6 billion that was saved in the budget deal through the military retirement cut.

"People are allowed to go out there and say what they want, but it is not going away,” said a leading conservative strategist who is a deficit hawk. “How are they going to pay for it going away?"

The budget agreement signed into law last month provided $63 billion in sequester relief over two years and achieved $85 billion in deficit reduction, including $6 billion from reducing COLAs by 1 percentage point below inflation for working-age military retirees under age 62.

The military pension cuts attracted swift condemnation from service and veterans’ organizations, who have launched a full-court lobbying press to get Congress to reverse the provision.

The effort has spawned more than a dozen bills. In aggregate, those measures have been backed by 94 House Republicans and 64 House Democrats, 12 Republican senators and 23 Democratic senators.

Many of the lawmakers voted for the overall budget bill that quickly cleared both chambers last month.

Even so, the bills that offset the $6 billion savings do not appear likely to attract bipartisan support, making them long-shots to pass both the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House.

Democrats in both chambers have signed onto measures that would replace the retirement cuts by closing offshore tax loopholes for corporations, a non-starter for Republicans.

The GOP bills target a number of cost-cutting issues. They would prevent illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit, make cuts to the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, replace the COLA cuts with the Pentagon’s unobligated balances and stop aid to Egypt and Pakistan.

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced a bill to restore the savings through limiting Saturday mail delivery.

No Democrats have co-sponsored any of those measures, with the exception of Rep. John Barrow (Ga.) backing the child tax credit pay-for in Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick’s (R-Pa.) bill.

The bill with the most support was introduced by House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), which has 95 co-sponsors, including 32 Democrats.

That measure simply repeals the $6 billion cut to military pensions. But defense observers are skeptical Congress would pass legislation to undo deficit reduction already in place.

One senior defense lobbyist said the budget deal included all of the “low-hanging fruit” when it came to deficit reduction, making it unlikely that the COLA cuts would easily be replaced.

The military retirement cuts were one part of a carefully crafted deal, which also included reductions for civilian federal worker benefits.

“It’s all political in an election year,” the lobbyist said of the repeal bills.

“The ones the Democrats are offering to close corporate tax loopholes — Republicans are never going to go for that... The same thing on Republican side with credits for illegal immigrants. They know it’s not going to fly with the Dems.”

House and Senate leaders have not said whether they plan to bring up any bills to restore the military benefits cuts.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did not include the military pension issue in his January legislative agenda. A Senate leadership aide said retirement benefits legislation would not be considered next week, and could not elaborate beyond that.

One House aide said that leadership may be waiting before making a decision on the retirement benefits to see how strongly the issue resonates back in lawmakers’ districts.

“If members come back and go to leadership and say they’re really getting hit on this, leadership might be in a mood to adjust it,” the aide said. “If they come back and there’s not as much passion behind it, that tells you it will be a completely different story.”

There is likely to be at least one change made to the retirement benefit cuts: exempting medically retired veterans.

There have been an additional four bills introduced to address that issue, including from Murray. Both Murray and Ryan say that disabled veterans were included in the budget deal due to a “technical error” and they want to quickly fix the problem.

 A list of the various bills offered to repeal the military-pensions cut can be found here.

— Erik Wasson contributed.