Ever since signing off on a December budget deal that that rolled back $6 billion in veterans pensions, lawmakers have professed great sincerity in their efforts to restore full payments to the veterans.
And why wouldn’t they? No lawmaker, ever, wants to be seen as breaking faith with “the troops,” so when veterans were outraged over $6 billion in cuts to working-age retired service members, lawmakers scrambled to sponsor bills that would put the funding back in place.
So far, Congress’s omnibus spending bill removed the benefits reduction for veterans who retired for medical reasons, but that was a small part — less than one-tenth — of the total cuts.
And now, for all the hand-wringing over reversing the rest of the cost-of-living-adjustment cuts, many of those measures are attached to legislation that is going precisely nowhere — in large part because of where they propose to decrease spending to offset the veterans’ cuts.
Take, for example, a pair of proposals from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Dan Maffei. The Democratic duo has introduced similar legislation in their respective chambers that would swap the COLA cuts by closing a tax loophole for offshore corporations. Shaheen has said she is willing to work with members of both parties, but thus far of the 69 combined cosponsors for her and Maffei’s measures, zero are Republicans.
Across the aisle, Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee is pushing to restore the benefits using a favorite GOP target: the Affordable Care Act. DesJarlais wants to take money from the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which he calls “a slush fund.” The measure is a nonstarter in Harry Reid’s Senate.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick is recommending Congress pay for the pension funds by increasing requirements to receive the Refundable Child Tax Credit, a move aimed at blocking undocumented immigrants from claiming the credit. Rep. Martha Roby called the proposal “a fix the Republican Conference can rally around,” and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is pushing a similar measure in the Senate.
When legislators introduce bills that pit benefits against the other party’s policy priorities, it offers them a new avenue to accuse their rivals of “standing with [insert politically unpopular group here]” instead of supporting veterans. What it doesn’t offer, however, is any help to those veterans themselves.