WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted 95-3 on Wednesday to repeal cuts that would have reduced military retirement pay by tens of thousands of dollars for enlisted and officers alike. The House passed the same bill Tuesday by a vote of 326-90.
The legislation will now go to President Barack Obama.
The 1 percent reduction in the annual cost-of-living adjustment for current working-age military retirees, scheduled to go into effect in January 2016, 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.
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 also called on Congress to enact legislation that would curb the growing cost of military compensation and benefits.
The Military Officers Association of America estimates the retirement cuts would cost a typical enlisted member who retires at 40 about $83,000 over 20 years, and cost a typical retired officer more than $124,000 over 20 years. That’s based on an estimated retirement package totaling about $1 million over that span.
Some veterans groups still aren’t satisfied with the repeal measure.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars praised the votes, but said the repeal doesn’t go far enough.
"The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States thanks all our supporters in the House of Representatives and Senate for taking quick action to repeal the one-percent COLA penalty on working-age military retirees," William Thien, the VFW’s Commander-in-Chief, said in a statement. "The legislation does not, however, remove the penalty on future retirees who enter the military after Jan. 1, 2014.
"The world will remain a very dangerous and unpredictable place even after America ends its involvement in Afghanistan, and future military retirees will be required to serve just as long and perhaps sacrifice even more than their predecessors. It is in that regard that the VFW will continue to fight for a full repeal of the COLA penalty, and we hope that this vote will continue that conversation."
Republican lawmakers offset the impact on the deficit of restoring COLA by adding cuts to Medicare that would take effect in 2024. Prominent Democrats have spoken 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.
But the Democrat-controlled Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly.