February 11, 2014, 03:12 pm
A lopsided House vote to restore military pensions
By Pete Kasperowicz
The House on Tuesday approved legislation to reverse a $6 billion cut to military pensions that Congress passed just weeks earlier.
Members passed S. 25, a federal land use bill that was picked by House GOP leaders as a vehicle to quickly approve the military pension language. GOP leaders hastily wrote the bill on Tuesday, after deciding to split the military pension language from a bill to suspend the debt ceiling until early 2015.
Just weeks ago, Congress passed an appropriations bill that cut the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans under the age of 62 by 1 percent. Republicans said today's bill corrects that decision and lets veterans get the benefits they deserve.
"We have a chance today to treat our veterans with the honor they deserve, by ensuring that they are fully compensated for their service during retirement," said Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
Some Democrats said they opposed not only the speed with which the bill was rushed to the floor, but the way Republicans are offsetting the $6 billion cost of the bill. The legislation pays for the restoration of benefits by extending sequester cuts to mandatory spending under Medicare for one year, through 2024 instead of 2023.
"So we're really simply robbing one group of deserving people to pay another group of deserving people," said House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.). "That is hardly responsible and hardly helpful."
Republicans had their own reasons for opposing the measure — many GOP members have said they disapprove of the idea of paying for current spending by promising cuts 10 years out. In the end, the House approved it, 326-90.
The bill was opposed by 19 Republicans and 71 Democrats. A two-thirds majority was needed, as the GOP brought it up under a suspension of House rules, which is a process typically used for noncontroversial bills.
Extending the sequester for another year creates about $2.3 billion in savings; the bill would reserve these savings to pay for future adjustments to the sustainable growth rate for Medicare physician reimbursements.
Under current law, those payments are set to decline, but Congress frequently continues to override those cuts and maintain current payment rates. While both parties have said they want a permanent "doc fix," the bill passed today reserves the $2.3 billion for doc fixes made in 2017 or later.
House passage sends the bill to the Senate, which is already in the process of considering its own bill to restore the $6 billion cut to military pensions. The Senate bill under consideration has no offset, but senators were working this week to find an agreement on how to pay for it.
While the Senate could decide to use the bill as a basis for further work, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he opposes the House offset.
Just before passing the pension bill, the House approved a rule for legislation that would restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This bill, H.R. 3193, would remove the CFPB from the jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve, and have it led by a five-member board.
Republicans have said a five-member board would help ensure more points of view are considered when regulating financial entities. The GOP has had numerous complaints about current leadership of the CFPB by Director Richard Cordray.
The House passed the rule in a 223-193 vote, which will allow the House to consider the bill any time it wants. That is likely to be later this month, as the House was expected to spend the rest of its day on the debt ceiling, and then adjourn for a nearly two-week break.