What will ‘clean’ debt-ceiling bill mean for repealing military pension cut?

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite).
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP).

House Republican leaders on Tuesday signaled they will bring up a ‘clean’ bill to raise the federal borrowing limit, dropping an idea they had considered to repeal a controversial military-pension cut as part of a potential debt-ceiling deal.

Military groups, veterans organizations and lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum have opposed the benefit reduction, which came as part of a comprehensive budget deal Congress and President Obama approved in December. The measure would limit annual cost-of-living adjustments for most working-age military retirees to 1 percentage point below inflation effective in December 2015, saving about $7 billion over 10 years.

The chance to repeal that cut did not die simply because GOP leaders failed to win support for a debt-ceiling bill with add-ons. At least seven other pieces of legislation under consideration would eliminate the pension reduction.

The Senate on Monday voted 94-0 to end debate and take a final vote on a free-standing measure from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to repeal the benefit limit.

A sweeping Veterans Affairs bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would repeal the cut and expand certain veterans benefits, such as dental and medical care, education and caretaker stipends. Sanders has estimated that his measure would cost $30 billion over 10 years.

The price tag of that proposal may cause Republicans to balk, even though Sanders has said ending combat operations in the Middle East could cover the cost, preventing an increase in spending.

Other measures on the table would repeal the benefit reduction in exchange for a range of provisions, from closing corporate “tax loopholes” to ending Saturday mail, plans proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) respectively.

Despite widespread support for repealing the pension cut, some conservative groups are pressing to keep the measure in place. Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist has rejected any alterations to the budget deal and its savings, including the benefit reduction, according to a recent Washington Post report. And Heritage Action for America, a right-leaning advocacy group, said Monday that it would probably oppose a debt-ceiling deal that removed the cut.

Still, Sanders has expressed the utmost confidence that Congress will restore the previous benefit level for younger military retirees. “There is no doubt in my mind that those cuts will never go into effect,” he said in an interview last week.

The question now is: Whose bill, if anyone’s, can win enough bipartisan support to pass through Congress? 

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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Josh Hicks · February 11