Senate reverses pension cut

Senate reverses pension cut
© Getty Images

The Senate on Wednesday sent legislation to President Obama’s desk that would repeal the controversial $6 billion cut to military pensions.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure in a 95-3 vote, undoing the spending cut that Congress had approved two months prior in the December budget deal.

The only senators to vote against the bill were Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says MORE (D-Del.), Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsBiden soars as leader of the free world Lobbying world President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him MORE (R-Ind.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden eyeing Cindy McCain for UK ambassador position: report Profiles in cowardice: Trump's Senate enablers McSally concedes Arizona Senate race MORE (R-Ariz.).


The legislation passed in the House just a day earlier in a 326-90 vote.

The vote was a victory for veterans groups that launched a full-court press on Capitol Hill after the reduction to the cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment was unexpectedly included in the budget deal.

But advocates faulted the bill sent to Obama for not helping future enlistees. Only current service members and veterans would see the cut reversed. It will go forward for those entering the military after Jan. 1, 2014.

The legislation offsets the $6 billion cost of reversing the cut by extending the sequester on Medicare spending for one additional year, to 2024.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFeinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee Bottom line MORE (D-Nev.) decided to hold an up-or-down vote on the House bill Wednesday, rather than push for legislation from Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorCotton glides to reelection in Arkansas Live updates: Democrats fight to take control of the Senate Lobbying world MORE (D-Ark.) and other vulnerable Democrats that did not contain an offset.

Republicans had said they were opposed to the Pryor bill because it would have added $6 billion to the deficit.

Reid had said Tuesday that he was opposed to the House measure with the Medicare sequester extension, but the majority leader reversed course on Wednesday and said he’d hold a vote on the House bill.

Pryor, who joined other vulnerable Democrats at a Tuesday press conference to call for a clean vote, said he had no problems voting for the House bill instead.

“I think we moved the process along,” Pryor said.

After the December budget deal was unveiled, lawmakers introduced a flurry of bills to repeal the pension cut, which reduced cost-of-living-adjustments for military retirees under age 62 by 1 percentage point below inflation.

While lawmakers from both parties backed repealing the pension cut, none of the bills that were introduced included an offset that attracted bipartisan support.

House GOP leaders finally pushed the process forward Monday by proposing the Medicare offset, which Reid himself had proposed as a means to pay for an extension of unemployment insurance.

Senate Democrats said they weren’t entirely happy with the extension of the Medicare spending caps, but they didn’t raise objections.

“You don’t always get what you want,” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Top cybersecurity official ousted by Trump Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, told The Hill. “It’s pretty hard to oppose it since it’s one of the things we proposed a month ago on unemployment."

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 MORE (D-Fla.) had initially expressed opposition to extending the Medicare sequester caps, but he said Wednesday he could support it because the change doesn’t hit the budget until 2024.

“We’ll get it fixed,” Nelson told The Hill. “It’s all this funny money.”

Senate Republicans also expressed lukewarm support for the offset, as they were hoping for a vote on a measure from Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-N.H.) to pay for the repeal by preventing illegal immigrants from receiving the additional child tax credit.

“It’s not the best one in town, but it works for me,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump should attend Biden inauguration 'if' Biden wins Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Georgia governor rejects Trump's call to 'overrule' elections officials with emergency powers MORE (R-S.C.). “I think Democrats understand there’s an appetite to help the veterans, but there’s also an appetite not to add to the debt, and it seems like reason prevailed here.”

A few voices raised complaints. Flake said on the floor before the vote that Congress shouldn't be so quick to repeal the deficit reductions it passed.

"When deficit reduction measures get signed into law, surely at some point we need to stand by them,” Flake said.

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Biden faces new Iran challenges after nuclear scientist killed MORE (I-Vt.) said he had problems with the bill because it did not include future enlistees, but he still voted for the measure.

“While it covers the current retirees, it does not cover future retirees who would then have to bear the burden of the COLA cut,” Sanders said. “It’s a partial fix, but it doesn’t go as far as it should.”

Veterans organizations also raised objections to future service member being excluded, which was different from nearly all of the bills lawmakers had previously introduced to repeal the pension cut.

"Future military retirees will be required to serve just as long and perhaps sacrifice even more than their predecessors," William Thien, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), said in a statement. "The VFW will continue to fight for a full repeal of the COLA penalty, and we hope that this vote will continue that conversation."

Ramsey Cox contributed.