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Retirement-Trimming Budget Heads to Senate Floor

Capitol in fog.

The Senate on Tuesday agreed to vote on the budget deal that includes a reduction in cost of living adjustments for working age military retirees starting in 2015.

The cloture vote -- which shut down debate on the budget bill -- passed 67-33, meaning the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act will be voted on no later than Wednesday and, if passed, sent to President Obama's desk for signing.

The budget deal has been roundly slammed by veterans service organizations and other veterans groups and military associations as an attempt to try and reduce the federal budget at the expense of servicemembers and retirees.

Under the bill, the change would help the Defense Department avoid about $62 billion in sequester cuts over two years. Veterans groups are sharply opposed to a provision that reduces post-2014 Cost-of-Living Allowances by 1 percent.

The House passed the measure, worked out between Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., last week.

Shortly before Tuesday's vote, three Republican Senators joined with military advocates to call for rejecting the deal if it includes the COLA provision.

Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi were joined at the Dirksen Building by representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Officers Association of America, The National Defense Committee and the National Association for Uniformed Services.

MOAA considers the provision a breach of faith to men and women in uniform because it reduces retired pay, survivor benefit values and is an unfair cut in military career benefits, MOAA President Norb Ryan said in a statement.

Under the plan, he said, an E-7 in 2013 with 20 years of service would lose an average $3,700 per year by the age of 62, for a total of about $83,000. An 0-5 would be out more than $6,200 a year for a total, cumulative loss of more than $124,000, he said.

Lawrence Korb, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for manpower, reserve affairs, installations and logistics under President Reagan, said the change is not that significant.

Writing Tuesday for the website DefenseOne, Korb said it will have little effect on most people in uniform because the vast majority does not stay for 20 years. Those who are affected are working-age, mostly in their 40s and 50s, who will go on to second careers even as they draw their retirement pay, he wrote.

Korb also argues that over the past decade servicemembers have chalked up more benefits so that many of those who have retired in recent years are pulling in more retired pay than they were initially promised.

Elsewhere in the country, the tough economic times have become justification for rolling back and altering pension and retirement plans for public employees, including police and firefighters.

For any who back those kinds of actions but oppose tweaking future COLA's by 1 percent for military-age retirees is hypocritical, Korb replied when asked.

"Particularly when the value of the [military] retirement has been enhanced so much over the last decade and, unlike police and fireman, it will be recalibrated at 62," he said.

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Retired from Military Congress Defense Budget Bryant Jordan
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