Activist: Congressmen confessed to not reading budget bill that cuts veteran pay

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Many lawmakers including a vast cross-section of Republican House members voted for the recent two-year budget deal without reading the bill and realizing that it slashes veteran pensions — and there’s now bipartisan desperation reaching the White House to repeal that provision with new legislation.

“[The House] moved it very quickly. It came out Tuesday, they voted Thursday and they were gone Thursday night,” retired Col. Mike Barron told The Daily Caller. Barron’s organization Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is now leading a charge on Capitol Hill to repeal the pension cuts. “Many members and their staff told us they were not given a chance to read the bill.”

The House voted 332-94 on December 12 to approve the two-year budget deal, which slashes the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for veteran retirees by one percent per year until the veterans turn 62 years of age. MOAA calculated that a veteran who retired at the E-7 pay grade, equivalent to a Sergeant first class, at age 40 would lose $83,000 in post-retirement purchasing power while an O-5 senior officer would lose $124,000. After it passed the Senate, President Obama signed the bill into law on December 26.

“A lot of members didn’t bother reading it, especially in the House. There was such a rush to get out of town, there was no heads-up. The staffs were not consulted. This was a backroom deal, and folks wanted the overall budget agreement to go through and not hold it up,” Barron said.

MOAA has taken the lead in informing members of Congress about what they actually voted on, partnering with the 33-member Military Coalition, which MOAA leads.

“Every member of Congress has been contacted electronically. We stormed the Hill and talked to every member of the Senate and gave them a pretty clear picture,” Barron said, noting that at least “1 in every 3 members” have already expressed their desire to repeal the provision.

“Even though the House passed it a lot of them really had no idea what was in it. They came back and said we voted for this thing and now we know what’s in it and we realize it’s unfair and we’re going to try to get it repealed,” Barron said.

“On the Senate side [which approved the deal on December 18]…even the ones who voted for it because they wanted to get the larger budget deal said, ‘We’re going to use a vehicle’ to repeal it. I don’t know which one in particular they will use,” Barron said. “The White House is involved right now.”

Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has proposed two bills to reduce the impact of the cuts for veterans and also to repeal the provision, respectively. H.R. 3789 and H.R. 3790 have yet to be taken to the House floor, with Congress just returning to session Monday. Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte has also proposed a bill repealing the provision.

The Military Retirement and Modernization Commission, put in place by the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, is charged with making researched recommendations about any future changes to veteran retiree pay. Though the Commission is already holding meetings, it has yet to release a report. Members of Congress are embarrassed that the budget deal struck by Congress and the White House ignored the Commission’s authority.

Veterans, meanwhile, are deeply concerned about the potential impact of the cuts.

“I’m exactly one of the ones who will be affected. That’s for sure,” retired JAG officer and former West Point assistant professor Thomas White, who served 25 years, told TheDC. “I’ve read about what has happened in Congress. It just perplexes me.”

“I was in Baghdad when the congressmen would pop in and pop out. It’s a complete disconnect, in some way attributed to the lack of appreciation for those who have served in uniform,” White said. “They’re only saving $6 billion with the reduction in COLA. With the number of programs that are out there, the motivation seems to be lack of intestinal fortitude” to cut other government spending programs.

“I’ve had seven knee surgeries, a herniated disk in my back from air assault school and also when i was in Iraq a mortar blast that i wasn’t ready for. I don’t know how you could be ready for it, but I wasn’t ready for it. Exposure to diseases that most people don’t get exposed to, just from being in deployed environments,” White said. “The force is not as conservative as it used to be but it’s still very family-oriented.”

White added that he does not want his children to serve in the military.

House Speaker John Boehner’s office did not return a request for comment.

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