Senate panel to mark up bill repealing military pension cuts

The Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up a bill next week to repeal the $6 billion military pension cuts included in last month’s budget deal.

The Armed Services panel is the latest to push a proposal that would reverse the $6 billion pension cuts included in the December 2013 budget deal.

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The committee plans to mark up legislation next Monday sponsored by Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) — both vulnerable Democrats in 2014. The panel initially scheduled the mark-up for Thursday but then pushed it back to next Monday.

The Pryor-Hagan bill to repeal the reduction in the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age military retirees does not include an offset for the $6 billion, which has been the sticking point to moving legislation.

The pension cuts in the budget deal reduce COLAs for working age retirees by 1 percentage-point below inflation until age 62.

There have been more than a dozen bills introduced to repeal the military pension cuts from the budget deal, but none of them have been able to identify an offset with bipartisan support.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinInspector general independence must be a bipartisan priority in 2020 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer MORE (D-Mich.) has said he prefers bringing the Pryor-Hagan bill to the Senate floor, and then allowing amendments to the bill to pay for the $6 billion offset. Levin’s committee mark-up is the first step to doing that.

“I think the better way to approach this is to get a bill to the floor which will repeal the provision, and then debate the offsets when it gets to the floor,” Levin said last week. “It’s going to be a lot harder to get a bill to the floor which has a broad, bipartisan coalition if you try to identify the pay-for in advance.”

It’s unclear if Republicans will go along with Levin’s offset-less bill in committee.

The leading Republican proposal to repeal the pension cuts comes from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), an Armed Services member, who says she can save $20 billion by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming the additional child tax credit.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the committee, supports Ayotte’s measure. But he also proposed an amendment to the unemployment insurance extension legislation last month that would have simply repealed the pension cuts in the budget deal without an offset.

Another bill to repeal the military retirement benefit cuts appears headed to the floor next week, as the Senate is preparing to take up an omnibus veterans bill from Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Sanders’s $24 billion legislation repeals the pension cuts and includes a host of additional provisions, but it pays for the bill with $20 billion from Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), a Republican non-starter.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the Veterans Affairs panel, is preparing an alternative veterans bill that is also expected to repeal the pension cuts. 

— This story was updated at 6:48 p.m.