December 17, 2013

Opponents swallow bitter pill, move budget bill toward final Senate passage

Top Senate Republicans oppose the measure because it cuts military retirement benefits, but haven’t tried to engineer its defeat.

By David Espo
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., left, attends a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, urging her Senate colleagues to change the budget proposal that cuts retirement benefits for current and future military retirees.

The Associated Press

That concern was less of a factor among Senate Republicans, who are in the minority. Several face tea party-backed challengers in primaries next year, and their rivals have called for the legislation’s defeat.

The party’s top leaders, including Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas, both voted against advancing the legislation. Yet they made no attempt to organize an attempt to derail it, an outcome that would have forced new and uncertain negotiations with the House and raised the prospect of a shutdown.

Despite the internal divisions, Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who chairs the Republican senatorial campaign committee, said he doubted the legislation would figure prominently in any Republican primaries next year. “My analysis of this issue is that it can be seen either way,” he said.

Among the savings embedded in the legislation are an increase in the airline ticket tax to pay for airport security, higher fees on corporations whose pensions are guaranteed by the government, an extension of existing cuts in payments to Medicare providers and a requirement for future federal workers to pay more toward their own pension costs.

The one provision belatedly causing political heartburn would hold down cost-of-living increases in benefits that go to military retirees until age 62. Increases would be held to one percentage point below the rate of inflation beginning in December 2015. The total estimated savings, $6.3 billion, was less than 10 percent of the overall amount in the legislation.

But it was aimed at one of the most politically potent groups in the country, and veterans organizations and their allies in Congress responded – particularly after officials confirmed that the curtailment would apply to the retirement benefits of veterans who leave the service on disability.

At a news conference, Ayotte, Graham and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi stood next to an oversized chart estimating that a sergeant first class who retires at age 42 after 20 years of service would lose $71,956 in benefits over a lifetime.

Pentagon figures show about 840,000 military retirees under age 62 are receiving retirement pay. Of them, about 63,500 are disability retirees.

Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Andrew Taylor contributed to this story.

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