Armed Services panel to review retirement changes in budget deal

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinListen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race MORE (D-Mich.) said Friday his committee would review the changes to military retirement benefits included in the budget deal before they fully take effect.

Levin said that next year his panel would examine the reduction in cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for working-age military retirees that was included in the agreement reached between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

It’s unclear whether the committee leaders would try to reopen details of the deal — or if they would be able to — should it pass the Senate. The budget agreement passed the House 332-94 on Thursday.

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“A number of concerns have been raised about the provision in the Murray-Ryan budget agreement that would reduce the annual cost of living increase to the retired pay of working-age military retirees,” Levin said in a statement. “The Senate Armed Services Committee is going to review this change after we convene next year, before it takes effect in December 2015.”

Several Republicans on the Senate Armed Services panel, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.), say they are opposed to the deal because of the military retirement benefit cuts.

All of those senators are against the deal despite the fact that it would provide sequester relief to the Pentagon.

In a letter to their colleagues Friday, the trio said that they would be willing to back the budget deal if the military retirement portion was removed.

"If the ‘pay for’ is changed, we are prepared to support it to provide budgetary certainty and sequestration relief for our nation’s critical defense programs,” the senators said. 

The budget deal provides $63 billion in additional spending to the Pentagon and domestic spending over two years while cutting $85 billion.

Lawmakers have objected to the $6 billion that's saved through reducing the COLA for military retirees under age 62 by 1 percent below inflation, a change that fully takes effect in 2016.

Levin has not taken a position on the overall deal, but said he is inclined to support it.

“I’m leaning toward it,” Levin said Friday when asked his position.

Pentagon leaders have backed the deal, which would give the military $22 billion in sequester relief in 2014 and another $9 billion the following year.

Not all defense hawks are opposed to the agreement either. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says he will support the budget deal, although he has raised concerns with the Budget Committee leaders making a decision on the military retirement issue, rather than the Armed Services panels.

Levin and the other Armed Services Committee members have noted that a commission established by Congress is currently studying the issue of retirement benefits.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said that he expects the commission and his committee will also be examining the changes.

— This story was updated at 5:13 p.m.