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Bill to restore COLA for military retirees clears Senate hurdle

Feb. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Shaun Donovan Testifies At Senate Hearing On Recov
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is co-sponsor of a bill to repeal a section of the Ryan-Murray budget deal that reduces annual cost-of-living adjustment increases by 1 percentage point for 'working age' retirees. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
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The Senate cleared a key procedural hurdle Monday on a bill that would undo the cuts to military retirement pay introduced by the Bipartisan Budget Act.

Senators voted unanimously, 94-0, to advance the bill, which, if passed in a final vote this week, would repeal a section of the Ryan-Murray budget deal that reduces annual cost-of-living adjustment increases by 1 percentage point for “working age” retirees, starting in late 2015.

Before the procedural vote, bill co-sponsor Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, expressed hopes his colleagues would pass the final measure and not be deterred by the fact that it contains no proposals to pay for the $6 billion the cuts would save.

“Honestly, I’m sick of [hearing about the offsets]. The bill has no ‘pay-for’ because the men and women this bill addresses have already paid with their service,” Begich said.

With the vote, senators can now propose amendments to the bill, S. 1963, written by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to cover the cost or pass it as is — a move that would contribute to the federal deficit.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., one of the first lawmakers to oppose the Bipartisan Budget Act because it contained the COLA reduction, said money must be found to offset the bill’s cost.

“The ... bill authorizes more spending, unpaid for, in direct violation of the budget plan set by the Murray-Ryan bill signed just a month ago,” Sessions said.

Sessions supports legislation proposed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., which would close a tax loophole that allows undocumented workers to receive tax credits for their children.

Ayotte’s proposal would require a person filing taxes, or the child who is claimed, to have a Social Security number in order to receive the $1,500 credit.

Currently, there is no requirement for a taxpayer to have a Social Security number to qualify for the credit. Undocumented immigrants often file income taxes using tax identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers.

Ayotte originally had proposed eliminating the tax credits for all undocumented workers. Her new version would allow credits if the child being claimed has a Social Security number.

According to Ayotte, the proposal would save $20 billion over 10 years.

A sweeping veterans bill penned by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., includes a repeal of the COLA caps, which would be paid for using wartime contingency funding.

Other legislators both in the House and Senate have introduced bills that would offset the cost by: tightening regulations on U.S. companies that shelter funds in foreign tax havens; cutting Saturday postal service; blocking foreign aid to Egypt or Pakistan; and consolidating the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments’ prescription drug purchasing programs.

While senators voted on the cloture motion, House Republicans met to discuss their debt limit plan, which sources have said may include a provision that links repealing the retirement cuts to a one-year extension to lift the federal borrowing limit.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Republican leadership planned to tie the restoration of the full cost of living adjustment to military retirement in return for increasing the ceiling, according to aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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