Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions publicly slammed the budget drawn up by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan Wednesday for cutting soldiers’ pensions by $6 billion, highlighting a growing split between the two GOP budget chairmen over budgets and GOP electoral strategy.
On Wednesday, Sessions’ staff sent out a video clip of the Senate debate over the 2014 budget deal, during which Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker quizzed the Democrats’ budget chief, Sen. Patty Murray, about a $6 billion long-term cut to soldiers’ pensions.
Murray declined to explain the cut, but is shown in the video clip telling Wicker to instead ask Ryan for an explanation.
The cut was agreed to by Murray and Ryan in closed-door budget talks that excluded Sessions, who chairs the Senate’e budget committee.
House members didn’t learn about the cut, and other hidden spending increases, before Ryan and other GOP leaders pushed the budget through Dec. 12.
“Based on everything that’s being reported, it’s starting to look like the House budget guys gave bad info on their deal to their conference,” said one Hill aide. “With big issues coming up — like the debt ceiling and immigration — this is going to raise some trust issues” with the GOP base, he said.
On Tuesday, Sessions used the Senate’s complex rules to allow senators to vote against the one percent cut to soldiers’ “Cost Of Living Adjustment” pension changes. Sessions’ amendment would stopped the cut, but also saved billions of dollars by blocking tax-welfare payments to illegal immigrants or to foreign scammers.
His amendment lost when all but one Democratic senator voted against it. Every GOP senator voted for Sessions’ amendment.
“Did the negotiators realize [that] when this COLA-less-one-percent provision was inserted in the conference committee [report] that it would mean $80,000 lifetime out of the retired pay of the typical enlisted retiree?” Wicker asked Murray during the floor debate.
“Did the two negotiators agree [with] the magnitude of what they [were] sending to the House and Senate?” Wicker asked, implicating Ryan in his question.
Murray passed the blame to Ryan. “I would suggest that the senator ask that question to Chairman Ryan,” she replied.
“No one wants to claim parenthood of this very onerous penalty,” Wicker responded.
Ryan’s office defended the cut to soldiers’ retirement packages. “We must make sure their long-term benefits are on a sound, financial footing [which] would not only strengthen their retirement security, but also free up more resources for today’s national-security priorities,” said a statement from the office. The cut would amount to $108,000, spread out over 22 years, for an Army sergeant who served 20 years after enlisting at age 18, said the Ryan statement.
Sessions’ release of the video may undercut Ryan’s support in the GOP base.
The increasing conflict between the two GOP chairmen was triggered by the House GOP leaders’ willingness to exclude Sessions from the budget talks.
The final 2014 budget deal approved by House GOP leaders trades roughly $80 billion in increased spending sought by Democrats in exchange for avoiding another government shutdown. Establishment GOP leaders in the House and Senate leaders fear another shutdown would damage their chances for success in the 2014 midterm elections.
But the conflict is also driven by Sessions’ efforts to block Ryan’s closed-door advocacy for a business-backed bill to import tens of millions of immigrant low-skill workers.
Sessions has led the opposition to the immigration bill, and had instead called for the GOP to raise wages by reducing immigration. That shift, he argues, would boost support for the GOP among working-class and middle-class Americans who voted Democratic, or did not vote at all, in the 2012 election.
Ryan, however, has sided with business and has declared that the country needs additional low-skill labor, even though 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.
Polls show the Ryan-backed policy of importing new workers, however, is very unpopular among voters.
In June, the Senate passed a bill — backed by President Barack Obama and all Senate Democrats — that would triple legal immigration for the next decade to 30 million. It would also double the future immigration rate to 2 million per year, and roughly double the 650,000 annual inflow of temporary guest-workers for jobs in universities, Wall Street, technology firms, healthcare centers, factories, hotels, resorts, restaurants and shops.
That’s enough extra workers in one decade to replace all Americans aged 20 to 30 who are now holding full-time jobs.
The bill is backed by cost-cutting business executives and by most journalists who cover immigration.
On a Dec. 16 radio interview, Ryan again endorsed an increased inflow of foreign workers.
“A legal immigration system that’s wired for your economy, versus the chain migration system we have today where we don’t have the rule of law, we don’t know who’s coming and going [and] is bad, [would] if we can make it much, much better… [be] good for us, good for America, good for the Republicans,” he told Charles Sykes, the 620 WTMJ radio interviewer.
Ryan’s push for imported workers is boosted by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ryan’s friend.
“I don’t care whether it is from Mexico, or India or Germany or Ireland or anywhere else around the world, if we have people who want to come here and work hard and live the American dream, we should embrace those people,” Walker told reporters at a November breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor.
Since 2000, the number of employed native-born Americans has declined – despite a population growth of 16 million — amid a huge influx of legal and illegal immigrants.
GOP leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner and Ryan, have suggested they may support similar worker-importing bills in the House during 2014.
If they bring any immigration bills for a floor vote, they’re likely to pass with support form nearly all House Democrats. Democratic leaders say they’re confident they can rewrite House-passed bills during a joint conference held between Senate and House leaders.