House Votes to Repeal COLA Cuts

Capitol in fog.

WASHINGTON -- The House voted Tuesday to repeal cuts to military retirement pay that were scheduled to go into effect next year.

The chamber passed the measure overwhelmingly by a vote of 326-90. The Senate is expected to vote on its own version of repeal legislation this week.

The 1 percent reduction in the annual cost of living adjustment for current working-age military retirees was part of a bipartisan budget deal in December intended to reduce the federal budget deficit and partially restore some of the automatic budget cuts that were imposed on the Pentagon and other government agencies under sequestration. The COLA cut would have saved the government about $6 billion over the next decade.

But the cut elicited strong opposition from veterans organizations, which pressured members of Congress to repeal the measure. Defense Department leaders also came out against the reductions, although they’ve called on Congress to enact legislation that would curb the growing cost of military compensation and benefits.

Some veterans groups still aren’t satisfied with the current repeal efforts in Congress.

"[The House repeal bill] is a compromise we cannot support because it does so at the expense of future military retirees who will be required to serve and sacrifice just as much as their predecessors. The VFW wants a full repeal of the COLA penalty for all generations, and we hope this vote continues that conversation," Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in an email statement.

The fate of the repeal legislation is unclear at this point. House Republicans offset the impact on the deficit of restoring COLA by adding cuts to Medicare that would take effect in 2024. Democrats have come out against this aspect of the legislation.

"We are simply robbing one group of deserving people -- Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security recipients -- to pay for helping another group of deserving people, our military retirees. This is just a shell game, and it is irresponsible," Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a press release.

The Senate bill under consideration does not provide any offsets. For a repeal to go into effect, the House and Senate have to reconcile differences in their respective bills and both chambers have to pass the same compromise legislation. With Republicans opposed to the idea of adding to the deficit and Democrats opposed to cuts in popular social spending programs, an impasse seems likely.

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