The U.S. House of Representatives voted 326-90 on Tuesday to prevent a reduction in cost of living increases in pensions for military retirees under age 62.
The Senate debated the military pension issue on Tuesday afternoon, but there was no word on when there might be a vote on it there.
The bill in the Republican-controlled House eliminated the cut in cost-of-living increases for military retirees and offset it by extending pre-existing sequester cuts in Medicare providers for an additional year, through 2024.
Some House Democrats objected.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland in a statement said he opposed the bill “because it breaks the principle that domestic spending cuts should not pay for higher defense spending.”
“This is just the latest demonstration of why we cannot achieve the kind of comprehensive deficit reduction we need by way of small, piecemeal efforts that only ask one group to contribute – whether they are our nation’s veterans, federal employees, or anyone else. Serious deficit reduction, as recommended by the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson and Rivlin-Domenici commissions, will have to require everyone to contribute and share in the burden of putting America back on a sound fiscal path,” Hoyer said.
All of the members of the House from the greater Triangle area voted for the bill (Republicans George Holding of Raleigh, Renee Ellmers of Dunn, Howard Coble of Greensboro, and Democrats G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, David Price of Chapel Hill and Mike McIntyre of Lumberton).
House leaders on Monday night proposed linking the measure with one to raise the debt limit, but on Tuesday they decided to split them into separate votes.
In the Senate, four Democrats facing difficult re-election races, including Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, sponsored the legislation to prevent the cuts from taking effect as planned in 2015.
The cost of living retirement pay reduction for military retirees under age 62 was part of the budget and deficit reduction deal reached in December. Hagan said she voted for it after she heard from military leaders in North Carolina, who told her that there was an urgent need to get rid of the sequestration cuts on the military.
But she also opposed the cuts to the military retirees’ cost of living adjustments and announced plans then to introduce legislation to eliminate them.
“We cannot balance the budget on the backs of those who have answered the call of duty,” Hagan said on Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.
The budget plan called for the cuts to retiree pay to take place in December 2015. They will cost the typical retiree about $80,000 over a lifetime, Hagan said. In North Carolina, about 90,000 military retirees are 62 or younger, and there are thousands of service members on active duty who will retire later and then also would be affected, Hagan said.
She also said that military officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which she serves, that military retirement benefits are an important part of decisions to serve and re-enlist, and so the cost of living adjustment cuts could make retention more difficult.
Undoing the cuts will cost about $6 billion over 10 years, Hagan said.
Her measure would add to the deficit because it didn't provide for other cuts to offset it.
Hagan said she was willing to consider offsets if they’re proposed, but she didn’t respond when asked if she had any offsetting budget cuts to suggest.
Senators on Tuesday afternoon debated an amendment by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., that would require tax filers claiming the Additional Child Tax Credit to provide a Social Security number for each child they are claiming. Ayotte said the measure would save an estimated $20 billion over 10 years.