Republican senators look to merge fights over military pensions, jobless benefits

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Republican senators are trying to combine their efforts to offset the cost of a three-month unemployment benefits extension with a repeal of $6 billion in cuts to military pensions.

Eight Republican senators held a press conference on Wednesday urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to allow the Senate to vote on Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s (R-N.H.) amendment as part of the unemployment insurance bill.

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Ayotte’s proposal, which would prevent illegal immigrants from claiming the additional child tax credit, was initially introduced to reverse the military retirement benefits cut included in last month’s budget deal.

Ayotte said Tuesday that the measure would save $20 billion — enough to offset both the $6 billion pension cuts and the $6 billion for a three-month unemployment insurance extension.

Both Ayotte and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) — who voted to proceed to debate on the unemployment bill Tuesday — said they would vote to block the bill from moving forward if Reid does not allow any amendments.

“I will not vote to end debate without offsets,” Ayotte said. “And I think what’s telling about this is that we’ve introduced a common-sense proposal for an offset.”

Democrats have suggested they would be open to offsets for both the jobless benefits and the military pension cuts, but it’s not clear what offsets both parties could agree to.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, told reporters Tuesday that Democrats are willing to find a “reasonable” way to pay for the short-term unemployment insurance extension.

Ayotte’s measure has not attracted any Democratic support in the Senate. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, said Tuesday that he was supportive of the efforts to repeal the military pension cuts but was opposed to Ayotte’s bill because of the offset.

Republican senators at Wednesday’s press conference contended that Ayotte’s bill would pass if it were put to a vote, but said they were willing to negotiate with Democrats on a different offset.

Of course, Republicans are opposed to the pay-for included in Democratic bills to repeal the military pension cuts: closing overseas corporate tax loopholes.

There has been bipartisan support behind the effort to repeal the military pension cut in the budget deal, which reduces the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age retirees.

Roughly one-in-three lawmakers have signaled support for the effort, even though no bipartisan offset has emerged to cover the $6 billion saved in the cuts.