Military pensions and Boehner’s debt-ceiling idea

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly urged his GOP allies on Wednesday to consider raising the nation’s borrowing limit in exchange for ending a recent military-pension cut that conservatives and progressives alike have vowed to repeal.

President Obama and Democratic lawmakers have long said they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. And aside from that, a few Democrats, along with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have already proposed legislation to stop the pension cut. Then again, so have Republicans.

In an interview on Wednesday, Sanders insisted that raising the debt limit is “not negotiable,” adding that Congress has an obligation to pay the nation’s bills.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The pension cut will trim cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting in December 2015, although the original rate will apply once those individuals reach age 62. Military and veterans groups have strongly opposed the measure.

Last month, Sanders introduced a sweeping Veterans Affairs bill to repeal the benefit reduction and expand certain veterans benefits, such as dental and medical care, education and caretaker stipends. He estimated that the measure would cost $30 billion over 10 years.

Sanders said of restoring the previous pension level: “You don’t tie it to the debt-ceiling. It stays in my bill.”

But Republicans and Democrats have pitched other measures to repeal the benefit reduction in exchange for provisions that range from closing corporate “tax loopholes” to ending Saturday mail. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), respectively, proposed those plans.

Overall, Boehner’s idea would require concessions all around.

Some Democrats, Republicans and Independents have their own proposals for restoring the previous pension level. They would have to drop those plans.

Beyond that, lawmakers on the left want a clean debt-ceiling bill, as do some GOP leaders who said Wednesday that they want to avoid another damaging fight over the nation’s borrowing limit.

MORE: “Conservatives to Boehner: avoid ‘theater’”

Ironically, repealing the benefit cut could also require the government to spend and borrow more, something conservatives in Congress have fought against for the past several years.

Sanders said he is certain that one of the competing measures will prevail. “There is no doubt in my mind that those cuts will never go into effect,” he said.

Regardless of which proposal finally wins approval, one group will come away with a clear victory: military retirees. Veterans groups have estimated that restoring the previous pension rate would prevent some of those individuals from losing out on up to $80,000 in retirement savings.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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