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Lawmakers won't cede power to trim pay, benefits

Jun. 5, 2013 - 05:32PM   |  
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A House committee is unwilling to cut the generous package of pay and benefits for service members and veterans — and is also unwilling to cede the power to make the cuts to an independent commission.

The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the 2014 defense budget rejects Obama administration requests to limit the 2014 basic pay raise and increase Tricare health insurance fees, especially for working-age retirees.

Lawmakers said there is no reason to decide to cut benefits now when a Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, requested by the Defense Department, will be holding its first meeting later this year to come up with a long-range plan.

Congress approved the commission but denied a Defense Department request that its recommendations be voted on by the House and Senate without giving lawmakers a chance to make changes. A similar fast-track process has been used to get Congress to accept base-closing decisions made by independent commissions.

Rep Jackie Speier, D-Calif., tried Wednesday to restore the fast-track procedure during debate on the $526.6 billion defense budget for 2014. Her amendment, which would have required a vote within 90 days of the commission’s recommendations being delivered to Congress, was rejected by voice vote after debate about whether Congress should ever do anything to cut personnel costs.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said he “understands the politics” of lawmakers not wanting to vote to cut benefits. But he also warned that projections show that if uncapped, personnel costs would consume up to one-quarter of future defense budgets.

“Most independent analysts who have looked at it say this is not affordable,” he said.

Republicans did not disagree. “If we don’t make reforms, we are going to be in a situation where we can afford one airplane every other year,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

However, Thornberry and other Republicans said they are not willing to cede power of the details of defense cuts to an independent commission and want to reserve the right to make changes if they do not like the recommendations.

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