Pelosi urges end to Pentagon’s clawback of soldier overpayments
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has joined the growing chorus of California lawmakers urging the Obama administration to cease collecting payments from soldiers who were mistakenly overpaid reenlistment bonuses.
Pelosi said the soldiers have earned every dollar they got and called on GOP leaders in both chambers — Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — to enact a legislative fix in the post-election, lame-duck session.
“These brave Californians were willing to give everything to serve our country, and they earned every penny and benefit given to them,” Pelosi said Monday in a brief statement.
“The overpayment of enlistment signing bonuses by the Department of Defense should not be the responsibility of our service members or veterans to pay back, years after the fact,” she added. “Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell must join with Congressional Democrats and pass a legislative fix as soon as we gavel back into session.”
At issue are millions of dollars in bonuses paid by military recruiters to thousands of soldiers in 2006 and 2007. The payments were designed to help the military meet enlistment goals amid the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, but federal investigators found they they were paid too broadly in a number of states, particularly in California, and the Pentagon is now demanding roughly $20 million in repayments.
The story was first reported over the weekend by the Los Angeles Times.
The demand for repayments has sparked a firestorm of criticism from California lawmakers in both parties. GOP Reps. Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter both wrote Monday to Defense Secretary Ash Carter urging an immediate end to the agency’s clawback effort.
Issa said he’ll “insist” that Congress include a permanent legislative fix as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which lawmakers are poised to tackle in the lame-duck.
Ryan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Pentagon officials say the administration is seeking ways to help the affected soldiers and veterans, but the department doesn’t have the power to abandon the repayment program altogether, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday.
“We have the ability to waive individual payments on a one-by-one basis,” he said. “[But] there’s not currently the authority to waive these things writ large.”
That argument is not sitting well with California lawmakers.
“This problem was caused by widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said Monday in a statement. “Those officials and the government are at fault, it’s not the service members’ responsibility to keep tabs on payroll.”
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