WASHINGTON Feb 12 Democrats and Republicans in
the U.S. Congress joined together on Wednesday to reverse a cut
in pensions for working-age military retirees, as lawmakers
yielded to election-year pressure to scrap a deficit reduction
measure they approved only two months ago.
Final action came when the Senate voted 95-3 in favor of a
measure that had been overwhelmingly embraced by the House a day
The cut in military pensions was approved in December in a
bipartisan House-Senate deal that replaced two years' worth of
automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester
with more targeted savings.
The pension cuts would have affected 750,000 military
veterans, although many have other jobs.
Supporters of the cut hailed it as an initial step toward
curbing spending on costly entitlement programs that are
consuming an ever-greater share of spending.
But veterans groups expressed outrage at the idea of cutting
pension benefits for many of the same people who have been
deployed repeatedly to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lawmakers are especially sensitive to such protests in a
midterm election year. The sponsor of the bill that passed the
House, Republican Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas, is
aiming to unseat the sponsor of a Senate version, Democratic
Senator Mark Pryor.
Pryor's measure, which did not include any provisions to pay
for the scrapped cuts and was having trouble attracting
Republican votes, was dropped on Wednesday as the Senate
approved the House-passed bill. President Barack Obama will
still have to sign the measure before it becomes law.
"Our troops have sacrificed repeatedly to defend our country
and, of all groups, they should have never been singled out for
retroactive pension cuts," Cotton said on Tuesday.
But conservative Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona
said it was untrue that lawmakers were "turning our backs on
veterans" with the cuts. He warned that the U.S. fiscal
situation would only get worse if lawmakers "roll back one of
the few deficit reduction measures our president and Congress
have agreed to."
"For goodness sake, when deficit reduction measures get
signed into law, surely at some point we need to stand by them,"
Flake said on the Senate floor. He was one of the three senators
to vote against the repeal, along with Indiana Republican Dan
Coats and Delaware Democrat Tom Carper.
The cuts that were approved in December would slow
cost-of-living increases for the pensions by one percentage
point below the rate of inflation. The cuts applied to pensions
for veterans under age 62.
If Obama signs the measure, the cost of repealing the cuts
would be offset by cuts in other programs, including the
Medicare healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.
However, the new reductions will not take place until a decade
from now, giving Congress plenty of time to undo those as well,
if it chooses.
The House voted 326-90 to pass the measure on Tuesday, just
hours after Republicans abandoned a plan to attach it to a
proposed increase in the federal debt ceiling. Congress already
has repealed the part of the benefit cut that applied to