Democrats’ Plan to Pay for Veterans Benefits? Do It Later.

One Republican’s counteroffer: trolling Democrats.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) (2nd L) speaks to members of the media as Senate Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) (L) and Senator John Thune (R-SD) (3rd L) listen after the Senate Republican weekly policy luncheon November 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans participated in the luncheon to discuss Republican agendas. 
National Journal
Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper
Add to Briefcase
Jordain Carney Stacy Kaper
Jan. 28, 2014, 11:32 a.m.

Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans have agreed: They made a hor­rible mis­take when they jointly agreed to slash $6 bil­lion in vet­er­ans’ be­ne­fits as part of Decem­ber’s bi­par­tis­an budget deal.

But al­though they’ve agreed to roll back the cuts, they’re still split on how to pay for their re­pent­ance without adding to the de­fi­cit — and that’s where it gets really com­plic­ated.

After the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee met Tues­day about the cuts, Sen. James In­hofe — the pan­el’s top Re­pub­lic­an — summed up Con­gress’s pre­dic­a­ment: “Each one of the 15, Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans, the chair­man and my­self in­cluded,” want to re­store the be­ne­fits, he said. “Not one per­son of the 15, in­clud­ing me, came out with a pay-for solu­tion.”

One Demo­crat’s plan is to in­tro­duce a bill to re­store the be­ne­fits as soon as pos­sible, and worry later about how to pay for it.

Sen. Carl Lev­in, the com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, said he would like to bring a bill restor­ing the be­ne­fits to the Sen­ate floor as soon as pos­sible. The first ver­sion of the bill, however, would roll that spend­ing in­to the budget de­fi­cit, Lev­in said. They would then open the floor to amend­ments, hop­ing that would yield a “pay-for” that 60 sen­at­ors could go along with.

It’s un­clear if Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id would al­low an open amend­ment pro­cess, giv­en that past epis­odes have turned in­to ba­sic­ally an open for­um for le­gis­lat­ive griev­ances. But even if he does, find­ing a com­prom­ise won’t be easy: The Re­pub­lic­an re­sponse, at this point, has ranged from pro­pos­als that will make Demo­crats un­com­fort­able to state­ments that will make them furi­ous.

Re­pub­lic­an Ro­ger Wick­er of Mis­sis­sippi waded in­to the fray Tues­day, say­ing he wanted to be sure the spend­ing was paid for, and that Re­pub­lic­ans were the ones who were ser­i­ous about get­ting it done. “Our col­leagues on the oth­er side of the aisle are not so wor­ried about the spend­ing,” he said.

GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hamp­shire wants to pay for the cuts by crack­ing down on the pur­por­ted fraud­u­lent use of a child tax cred­it — in­clud­ing among un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants.

Ayotte’s pro­pos­al was ori­gin­ally aimed at dis­qual­i­fy­ing the chil­dren of such im­mig­rants en­tirely. But Ayotte said she has tweaked the plan in­to an an­ti­fraud meas­ure, which would simply re­quire that each child claimed for the cred­it has a val­id So­cial Se­cur­ity num­ber.

That tweak, Ayotte said, would still al­low un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants to claim the cred­it, but it would make it harder for any­one to claim the cred­it for nonex­ist­ent chil­dren, or for those who live over­seas.

Ayotte said her plan was based on a Demo­crat­ic pro­pos­al — but, thus far, it’s not play­ing well across the aisle.

“I think there are bet­ter pay-fors than that,” said Demo­crat Tim Kaine of Vir­gin­ia. “I don’t think you need to pay for this fix by harm­ing pro­grams that af­fect chil­dren. I think there are bet­ter pay-fors.”

Asked about Ayotte’s pro­pos­al, Lev­in said he pre­ferred a plan that takes aim at Demo­crats’ tar­get of choice: cor­por­a­tions. Demo­crat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire is push­ing a pro­pos­al that would crack down on off­shore tax havens — a de facto tax hike that Re­pub­lic­ans are un­likely to get be­hind.

And per­haps it’s all for naught.

The $6 bil­lion in cuts comes from ad­just­ing the way the mil­it­ary cal­cu­lates vet­er­ans’ cost of liv­ing. The Janu­ary om­ni­bus spend­ing bill re­moved some re­duc­tions to med­ic­ally re­tired vet­er­ans’ re­tire­ment be­ne­fits, but that was a small part — less than one-tenth — of the cut in the Decem­ber deal.

But while both parties struggle for a com­prom­ise solu­tion on how to re­verse the rest, it’s pos­sible they won’t have to find one at all.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said that the re­peal of the cuts might not have to be paid for, be­cause the Decem­ber budget deal ac­tu­ally cut more than Con­gress was re­quired to cut un­der its own Budget Con­trol Act.

“The budget agree­ment more than made up for the sav­ings in the Budget Con­trol Act. And, you know, I’m for sav­ing everything we can, so if we can find an off­set, I’m cer­tainly for that,” Blunt said. “But I don’t think this is ab­so­lutely de­pend­ent on the off­set.”

Oth­er sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­an Jeff Flake of Ari­zona and Demo­crat Jack Reed of Rhode Is­land, have said that find­ing a bi­par­tis­an pay-for could prove very chal­len­ging. And In­hofe has said it is more im­port­ant to re­verse the cuts than it is to pay for them.

“The first thing is to do it; secondly, it should be paid for, but be­cause it is a mor­al is­sue, I would just say it has to be done, either way,” he said.

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