Levin won't back Ayotte bill to repeal military pension cuts

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Tuesday that he cannot support Sen. Kelly Ayotte's (R-N.H.) bill to repeal $6 billion in cuts to military pensions because of the way it offsets the costs.

Levin initially told reporters Tuesday that he would back Ayotte's bill, providing a big boost to the effort to reverse the military retiree cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) reduction included in the last month’s budget deal.

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But a Levin aide said that the Armed Services chairman endorsed Ayotte's bill before realizing that it restored the cuts by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit.

"Sen. Levin would support legislation to repeal the military pension cuts if such an amendment didn’t endanger underlying legislation and if he supported the offset," the aide said. "He doesn’t support the offset in Sen. Ayotte's legislation, so he couldn’t offer support for her legislation."

Levin's reversal on Ayotte's bill highlights the difficulty that lawmakers have in reversing the military pension cut.

While one-in-three lawmakers support restoring the $6 billion cut to military retirement benefits, there is no bipartisan agreement on how the offset would be paid for.

Levin, for instance, would back a measure from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to offset the cost by closing overseas corporate tax loopholes. But that's a non-starter with Republicans.

Republicans have coalesced around Ayotte’s legislation and a companion measure in the House, which pays for the $6 billion by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit.

Republican lawmakers are also pushing the appropriations chairs to include the proposal in the omnibus spending bill that could be released as early as Wednesday.

"Surely we can agree it is better to end the fraudulent abuse of our system by illegally present tax filers than it is to cut the pensions of military men and women," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, wrote to the Appropriations leaders.

The lawmakers are targeting the COLA reduction for working-age military retirees of 1 percentage point below inflation that was included the budget deal, which quickly passed both chambers last month.

When Levin initially said that he would vote for Ayotte’s bill, he also added the caveat that he would only support the measure as an amendment should it not disrupt the underlying legislation.

“I’ll vote for it when it’s offered,” Levin told reporters. “I would vote for it unless it in some ways messes up a bill that I favor.”

That scenario has already occurred, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blocked GOP attempts to include the military pensions amendment on the unemployment insurance bill that cleared a procedural vote Tuesday.

Levin acknowledged there are still issues with repealing the provision in the budget deal, including identifying how to pay for it.

He said his committee is focused on planning a hearing on the issue and he'd like to hold it before the spring.

“I’ll vote for it, but what I want to do is focus on a hearing in case it doesn’t work that way,” Levin said. “The main problem is that it was singled out, and how you can overcome that problem without a greater entitlement reform is one of the issues which someone needs to address in testimony.”

— This story was originally posted at 12:24 p.m. and has been updated.