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.
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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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