By Jeremy Herb - 02/03/14 05:17 PM EST
The Senate is gearing up to vote on a bill as early as next week that would repeal the $6 billion cut to military pensions as part of a larger veterans package, according to Senate aides.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is likely to file cloture Thursdasy on the bill, authored by Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). That would set up a procedural vote next Monday, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.
It would repeal the $6 billion pension cut from the December 2013 budget deal that has come under harsh criticism, as well expand veterans healthcare programs, give veterans in-state tuition at any public university and provide advanced appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sanders has settled on paying for his veterans measure using funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to another Senate aide.
The precise amount of Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds needed to offset Sanders’ veterans legislation still needs to be finalized with a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
But the aide said the final cost of the bill is expected to be “significantly less” than the $30 billion cost over 10 years that Sanders initially had estimated. Sanders plans to file a new bill with the offset that will then be brought to the floor.
Republicans have expressed skepticism about using the Afghanistan and Iraq funds — which are essentially “off budget” and not subject to discretionary spending caps.
“That money is not a regular budget item and by design will run out once overseas contingency operations have ended, and therefore is probably not the best vehicle to use as an offset,” a House GOP Veterans Affairs committee aide said two weeks ago when Sanders first suggested using them.
The fight over offsetting the cost of Sanders’ legislation has been a sticking point with all of the bills introduced over the past six weeks that would repeal the reductions to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age military retirees.
While more than a dozen bills have been introduced from both parties, none have found significant bipartisan support.
Democrats have resisted two bills from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) that would reverse the cuts by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit, while Democratic bills to target offshore tax loopholes have been a non-starter with Republicans.
Sanders hopes that his wide-ranging bill, which includes provisions written by Republicans, will be able to overcome the fight over offsets.
“We use OCO for defense, and I think it’s totally legitimate to use it for those who defend us,” Sanders said last month.
Sanders is holding a press conference Tuesday morning with a number of veterans organizations that have endorsed his legislation in order to drum up support for the measure. No Republicans have signed the Sanders bill yet.
Meanwhile, two conservative-leaning veterans groups, American Veterans and Concerned Veterans for America — which is led by 2012 Minnesota Republican Senate candidate Pete Hegseth — are holding a press call Tuesday morning explaining their opposition to Sanders’ legislation.