Despite veterans opposition, Senate Dems vow to pass budget deal
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 12, 2013
WASHINGTON — Despite strong resistance from veterans advocates, Senate Democrats on Thursday vowed to push through a proposed budget deal to avoid steep funding cuts and government shutdown threats for the next two years.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised the budget agreement — brokered by budget committee chairs Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — as an important compromise for Congress and the country.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but neither did they,” Reid said. “That’s what we used to do.”
For more than two years, the federal budget has been patched together through a series of continuing resolutions, last-minute updates and — in October — a reluctant agreement after a two-week government shutdown.
The new budget deal calls for spending caps for fiscal 2014 and 2015 of about $1.01 trillion. It replaces the mandated sequestration cuts created during a summer 2011 fiscal fight with alternate budget trims and several new fees and revenues.
But among those savings is a reduction in cost-of-living increases for military retirees under the age of 62. Veterans advocates, furious over the proposal, have vowed to fight the plan in the waning days of the 2013 legislative session.
In a letter to Congress and the White House on Wednesday, members of the Military Coalition — 33 veterans and military advocacy organizations — called the proposal “an egregious breach of faith” driven by “an arbitrary deadline so that Congress can go home for the holidays.”
Officials from the Military Officers Association of America estimated that the proposed 1 percent cut in the annual inflation calculation for retiree pay will cost a typical enlisted member $83,000 over 20 years, and a typical retired officer more than $124,000 over the same span.
On Thursday, officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Army Warrant Officers Association questioned whether the $7 billion in savings over 10 years from the COLA change was crucial to the budget deal, insisting more palatable alternatives could be found.
Murray, acknowledging the veterans groups’ objections said that veterans “want to know there aren’t going to be furloughs, layoffs and cutbacks that are dramatic to the issues they care about.”
The advocates called that a false choice.“This isn’t ‘shut down the government’ or ‘make military retirees pay for the solution,’” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for IAVA.
In a statement, the Veterans of Foreign Wars national commander, William Thien, said the COLA change proposal “needs to be buried.”
But the veterans groups will have a tight timeline to do that.
House members are expected to vote on the proposal by the end of the week. The Senate will take up the issue next week.
Several Senate Republicans have vowed to fight the measure, but Reid said he is confident the measure can be approved before the chamber breaks for the holidays on Dec. 20.
If a deal can’t be reached, lawmakers will be forced to scramble another short-term budget deal by mid-January or face another government shutdown.