Republican Senators Battle Budget Cuts Targeting Military Retirees

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) (L) listens to an aide during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee September 26,2 103 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was focused on the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Legislation.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
Dec. 15, 2013, 7:11 a.m.

A hand­ful of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are balk­ing at a pro­vi­sion in the budget deal that would cut be­ne­fits to mil­it­ary re­tir­ees.

The deal would de­crease the an­nu­al cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment for work­ing-age mil­it­ary re­tir­ees by 1 per­cent, cut­ting ap­prox­im­ately $6 bil­lion in spend­ing over 10 years.

The deal finds sav­ings by “tar­get­ing mil­it­ary re­tir­ees,” said Sen. James  In­hofe, the top Re­pub­lic­an on the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. The Ok­lahoma sen­at­or is cur­rently un­de­cided.

And Sens. Ro­ger Wick­er, R-Miss., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., cited the cuts as a de­cid­ing factor in their de­cision to vote against the bill.

The three sent a let­ter to Sen­ate mem­bers Fri­day, call­ing for them to find al­tern­at­ive cuts to those pro­posed in the cur­rent agree­ment.

But the cuts ap­pear likely to re­main in the fi­nal deal, be­cause try­ing to change the terms of the deal now would likely stall it, giv­en that the House has re­cessed for the year.

Out­side groups have also hit back hard against the pro­vi­sion. The Mil­it­ary Co­ali­tion, in a let­ter to House mem­bers, said that if the de­crease in COLA is car­ried out it “will have a dev­ast­at­ing fin­an­cial im­pact for those who re­tire at the 20-year point by re­du­cing re­tired pay by nearly 20 per­cent at age 62.”

And Mike Bar­ron, with the Mil­it­ary Of­ficers As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica, said that by sug­gest­ing the cuts, mem­bers of Con­gress are hurt­ing a “key re­ten­tion tool” need to help re­tain “a top-qual­ity ca­reer force.”

Bar­ron also said the de­cision un­der­cuts the Mil­it­ary Com­pens­a­tion and Re­tire­ment Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Com­mit­tee, which is ex­pec­ted to look at ways to re­form mil­it­ary pay. Their re­port isn’t due un­til May 2014.

Their ob­jec­tions pit them against lead­ers in the De­fense De­part­ment who have backed the budget deal. De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel, while ac­know­ledging that even with the budget agree­ment the de­part­ment still faces huge fisc­al chal­lenges, said that “it will help ad­dress our mil­it­ary read­i­ness chal­lenge by restor­ing fund­ing for train­ing and pro­cure­ment, es­pe­cially in the cur­rent fisc­al year.”

Even with the cur­rent cuts, Hagel noted that mil­it­ary lead­ers will have to find a bal­ance between the size of the mil­it­ary and its read­i­ness and cap­ab­il­it­ies.

The cur­rent battle could be all for naught, though. Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Carl Lev­in, D-Mich., said that com­mit­tee mem­bers will “re­view this change after we con­vene next year.” The cuts aren’t ex­pec­ted to take ef­fect un­til Decem­ber 2015.

He also sug­ges­ted that Mil­it­ary Com­pens­a­tion and Re­tire­ment Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Com­mit­tee could im­pact the is­sue fur­ther.

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