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Cuts for military retirees costing GOP support for budget deal

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GOP lawmakers and military groups have lined up against the bipartisan budget deal making its way through Congress because of a provision that would trim pay for young military retirees.

In a joint statement last week, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said they cannot support the legislation because it “disproportionately and unfairly targets those who have put their lives on the line to defend our country.”

The budget agreement, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would reduce cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting in December 2015, although the existing rate would apply again once former service members reach age 62.

(Paula Bronstein/Getty) (Paula Bronstein/Getty)

The proposed change is projected to save the government $6 billion, but Ayotte said it “pays for more federal spending on the backs of our active duty and military retirees.”

The Veterans of Foreign Wars estimated it would reduce the benefits for a typical enlisted person who retires at age 40 by $80,000 by age 62.

Republicans who oppose the cut have called for alternative cost-reduction measures, saying they will not otherwise support the budget deal. However, it is unclear whether that opposition will be enough to stop the Senate from approving the plan, which is needed to head off another government shutdown.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure Tuesday. Passage of the bill, which also also increases the amount future federal workers would pay into their retirement plans, would represent a breakthrough in the partisan logjam that has repeatedly crippled the Capitol.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.) offered hope that the military-retiree provision could be revisited after the bill is passed. He said in a statement last week that the Senate Armed Services Committee, which he chairs, would review the change next year, adding that “a number of concerns have been raised about the provision.”

Levin did not comment on whether he supports the retirement provision, and his office declined to offer a position.

Military groups criticized the proposed reduction in retirement pay, saying it could affect retention in the armed forces. “Currently serving members look at how they, their families, retirees and survivors have been treated when making career choices,” said Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America.

VFW National Commander William Thien said in a separate statement: “The last thing our nation can afford is a mass exodus of mid-career enlisted and officers because they no longer feel welcome or in control of their military careers.”

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 Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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