Democrats Set Trap for Republicans on Veterans’ Benefits

Both parties are racing to reverse $6 billion in military retirements cuts, but first they plan to trade plenty of partisan blows.

WASHINGTON - APRIL 26: Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) talks with reporters after voting on the US Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health And Iraq Accountability Act at the US Capitol April 26, 2007 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted 51-46 in favor of the emergency appropriations bill which provides $100 billion the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a non-binding timeline for combat troop withdrawal beginning in October 2007. President George W. Bush has promised to veto the bill. 
National Journal
Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper
Add to Briefcase
Jordain Carney Stacy Kaper
Feb. 7, 2014, 7:57 a.m.

The Sen­ate fight over vet­er­ans’ be­ne­fits is about to be­gin in earn­est, and it’s about to get ugly.

The Sen­ate on Monday will take an ini­tial pro­ced­ur­al vote on le­gis­la­tion from Demo­crat Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas that would re­store $6 bil­lion in fund­ing to work­ing-age mil­it­ary re­tir­ees. The be­ne­fits were cut as part of Decem­ber’s bi­par­tis­an budget deal, but the re­duc­tions sparked a massive polit­ic­al back­lash, leav­ing law­makers rush­ing to re­verse them.

But while top Demo­crats are hop­ing to move Pry­or’s meas­ure, they’re as­sum­ing it will fail to get the 60 votes needed to clear clo­ture, ac­cord­ing to a seni­or party aide. His bill meas­ure lacks a way to off­set the be­ne­fits cost, and for Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, that’s a fatal flaw.

Demo­crats, however, have an al­tern­at­ive op­tion for when Pry­or’s pro­pos­al falls: a sep­ar­ate, broad­er bill from Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont that would not only re­verse the $6 bil­lion in be­ne­fits but also ex­pand ac­cess to oth­er vet­er­ans’ be­ne­fits, such as health care and edu­ca­tion. Sanders’s bill would cost $24 bil­lion; the meas­ure would off­set $20 bil­lion of that by tak­ing money from the Over­seas Con­tin­gency Op­er­a­tions Fund, a pool of money for the Afghan and Ir­aq wars that is ex­empt from Con­gress’s self-im­posed budget-cap laws. The oth­er $4 bil­lion, Sanders said, would come from oth­er funds un­der the com­mit­tee’s jur­is­dic­tion.

But that mech­an­ism won’t pass muster with Re­pub­lic­ans, either, who ar­gue that it’s an end-run around budget rules and does not rep­res­ent real-life fisc­al dis­cip­line. And so Sanders’s bill faces long odds in the Sen­ate and has vir­tu­ally zero chance of passing the House.

“The pay-for has turned out to be more of a stick­ing point than I thought,” said Sen. Ro­ger Wick­er, R-Miss. “Much as I would like to solve the COLA prob­lem, I’m not will­ing to add to the na­tion­al debt.”

So why are Demo­crats tee­ing up a string of bills they know won’t pass?

Ob­vi­ously, they — like Re­pub­lic­ans — want to undo the pen­sion cuts, and these pro­pos­als rep­res­ent their pre­ferred meth­od for do­ing it.

But Demo­crats are also in­ter­ested in for­cing the GOP to con­tinu­ally vote down vet­er­ans’ fund­ing, seek­ing to har­ness the mael­strom raised by the cuts and steer it to­ward their rivals.

Re­pub­lic­ans, for their part, ar­gue they’re the ones who are sin­cere about re­peal­ing the cuts — they just won’t sac­ri­fice budget dis­cip­line to do it. “As I’m sure you know, Demo­crats are a little late to this ef­fort. Re­pub­lic­ans have mul­tiple bills that would fix the COLA prob­lem without adding to the de­fi­cit,” said an aide to Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte wants to tie re­vers­ing the cuts to stop­ping what she views as tax fraud. The New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­an’s plan aims to bring in $20 bil­lion by mak­ing it harder for some — namely, un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants — to claim a child tax cred­it.

Sen. Richard Burr is push­ing a broad­er vet­er­ans’ be­ne­fits pack­age sim­il­ar to Sanders’s, but the North Car­o­lina Re­pub­lic­an’s meas­ure would likely use Ayotte’s fund­ing mech­an­ism.

Demo­crats, mean­while, have their own budget-neut­ral al­tern­at­ives — al­beit ones that Re­pub­lic­ans will likely find un­pal­at­able.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Dan Maf­fei have in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion in their re­spect­ive cham­bers to swap the roughly $6 bil­lion in cuts with clos­ing a tax loop­hole for off­shore cor­por­a­tions.

In the middle is Sen. John Mc­Cain, who is still eye­ing the $550 bil­lion Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act as the most likely vehicle. Con­gress al­ways man­ages to pass the yearly spend­ing vehicle, which Mc­Cain sees as large enough to provide ample op­por­tun­it­ies to off­set the cost.

What We're Following See More »
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

DETAILS ARE CLASSIFIED
Brennan Saw Russia Intelligence “Worthy” of Investigation
22 hours ago
THE LATEST

At an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA chief John Brennan said he saw information on Trump-Russia contacts that were worth a further look. "Having been involved in many counterintelligence cases in the past, I know what the Russians do. They try to suborn individuals," Brennan said. "And they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf, whether wittingly or unwittingly. And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons, and so therefore by the time I left office ... I had unresolved questions in my mind."

Source:
STAFF HAS COMPILED A SHORT LIST
Trump Enlisting Help of Outside Counsel
23 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump is moving rapidly toward assembling outside counsel to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign and Russian interference in last year’s election, and in recent days he and his advisers have privately courted several prominent attorneys to join the effort. By Monday, a list of finalists for the legal team had emerged, according to four people briefed on the discussions."

Source:
MADE REQUESTS TO COATS, ROGERS
Trump Asked Intel Chiefs to Push Back Against FBI Probe
23 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials. Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login