Numerous proposals being floated as Congress is set to return
JAN. 2, 2014
Local members of Congress are scrambling to repeal a provision in the budget deal approved last month that cuts military retiree pensions starting in 2015.
House and Senate offices began hearing from constituents shortly after it became known that working-age retirees under 62 would have their annual cost-of-living increases limited to 1 percent below the inflation rate. Retirees over age 62 will continue to receive an increase equal to the Consumer Price Index.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, wants to limit most U.S. Postal Service delivery from six to five days a week to pay for the $6.2 billion the pension adjustment is expected to save. Issa has long pushed to reform the postal system through his perch as chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, is co-sponsoring a bill that would simply rollback the cut approved by the House and Senate right before members adjourned for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, is co-sponsoring a bill that would restore the money for the targeted retirees by closing loopholes used by companies operating in the U.S. but incorporated in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.
A variety of other proposals to reverse the retiree cut are floating around the House and Senate, including eliminating the earned income tax credit for unauthorized immigrants to offset the pension costs.
Supporters of the revision to military retiree pensions note that pay has gone up during the more than decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghansitan, raising their long-term value. They also note that many of those affected would be employed after leaving the military.
Issa’s bill would lift a congressional mandate that requires the Postal Service to deliver paper mail six days a week. If the mandate is removed, the Postmaster General has said regular paper mail would be delivered Monday through Friday with just packages delivered on Saturday. Express and priority mail wouldn’t change, and Post Offices would stay open on Saturdays.
“This legislation would restore the cost-of-living adjustments for our military retirees and not only replace the savings, but nearly triple them,” Issa said, adding the savings would amount to $17 billion over 10 years.
Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said veterans began contacting the congressman’s office right after the budget deal was passed.
“The community that Mr. Issa represents includes a large number of military retirees and we probably heard a good bit more than some other offices did,” Hill said. “Congressman Issa saw that when the budget bill was passed, it had a lot of imperfections and he believes this needs to be corrected with an offset.”
Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said the House Armed Services Committee is expected to focus on the pension flap shortly after Congress reconvenes. The repeal bill Hunter is co-sponsoring would require congressional appropriators to scour the budget to find the savings elsewhere.
Peters said the overall budget deal prevents the chances of another government shutdown from happening anytime soon and rolled back many of the “sequester” cuts enacted early in 2013. But the cuts in veterans pensions are unacceptable, he said.
“It is clear that the cuts to military retiree COLAS in the budget are not an appropriate way to cut spending and need to be addressed,” he said.
Fallbrook’s Ann Wade, spouse of a recently retired Marine lieutenant colonel, has been a leading voice among military families in criticizing Congress for cutting retiree pensions. She said she’s sensing a groundswell of support for restoring the cut.
“What has to be brought forward is that this is an earned benefit, and it is a breach of contract,” she said. “This is not the kind of system that young Marines and military families want to look forward to. And these are not pay raises, they are simply cost-of-living adjustments.”
Close to 2 million former members of the armed services earn monthly military retirement benefits, including more than 800,000 under age 62.
Last year’s military spending bill established a nine-member commission charged with examining military pay, benefits and retirement compensation. The Obama administration has told the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission not to change the current retirement system for existing troops or those already retired.
The commission is scheduled to submit a comprehensive report of its findings and recommendations to the administration and Congress no later than May 1.