Congress could reconsider military pension cut in January

December 29, 2013

A cut to military retirement pay in the budget signed Thursday by President Obama has already triggered such a backlash that Congress may vote in January to toss it out.

Some lawmakers who represent districts with a military presence — and who voted for the overall budget — are vowing to overturn the pension change as soon as the House and the Senate reconvene Friday. Several House and Senate lawmakers in both parties, responding to heavy lobbying from advocates for service members and veterans, already have introduced bills that would restore full cost-of-living increases for military retirees of working age.

Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) have introduced a bill that would restore the annual cost-of-living adjustment for about 800,000 enlisted troops and officers who retire in their early 40s, then take other jobs outside the military. In the budget passed this month, the COLA for working-age retirees was reduced by 1 percentage point; once the retirees turn 62, they go back to receiving the full increase.

The cut is expected to save the government about $6 billion over 10 years, and it is set to be phased in over three years. Davis and Fitzpatrick’s bill would find the savings instead by asking the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on Americans who file fraudulent claims for child tax credits.

“I think we need to make the fix right now,” said Davis, whose Illinois district includes many former service members and employees at nearby Scott Air Force Base.

At a meet-and-greet with constituents in his district recently, many voters were livid at the pension cut, Davis said. To them and him, he said, the federal government is unfairly breaking a promise it made to service members.

“A lot of people joined the military and made huge sacrifices because they were promised a benefit,” he said. “To go back on that is wrong.”

Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) said she is partnering with Fitzpatrick on the legislation.

“I believe that this is a fix the Republican conference can rally around,” she said in a statement one day after the budget was approved. “In my opinion, it should be the first item on the docket for 2014.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection next year, has introduced a bill to replace the $6 billion saved by the COLA cut by instead “eliminating a tax loophole for offshore corporations,” a news release from her office said.

Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), James M. Inhofe (Okla.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and others also have come out against the COLA cut.

On Dec. 23, Reps. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) and Ted Poe (R-Tex.) introduced similar measures that would repeal the provision.

“As a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I believe our servicemembers, veterans, and their families must receive the benefits they have earned and deserve,” Brownley said in a statement. “These benefits are owed to them without equivocation. That is why I have introduced legislation to repeal the military retiree COLA reduction.”

It is unclear whether either proposal includes cuts to offset the elimination of the COLA savings.

Even lawmakers who support the COLA cut agree that the provision should be changed to exempt at least disabled veterans who were forced to retire for medical reasons, as well as survivors.

The budget legislation also requires newly hired civilian federal employees to contribute more to their pensions.

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.
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