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GOP weighs undoing vets pension cuts as debt price

Feb. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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The controversial cuts to cost-of-living pension increases for military retirees under the age of 62 were part of December's budget agreement, backed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Jewel Samad / AFP)
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WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders were considering a plan Monday to reverse a recently passed cut to military pensions as the price for increasing the government’s borrowing cap.

House Republican aides said party leaders planned to float the idea to rank-and-file GOP lawmakers at a meeting in the Capitol on Monday evening. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be identified by name discussing strategy.

It’s not clear that the plan will fly with Democrats. Democrats’ votes would be needed to help pass the measure since some Republicans refuse to vote to raise the so-called debt ceiling under any circumstances. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats will continue to insist that any debt limit legislation be “clean” of any add-ons, even bipartisan proposals like repealing military pension cuts.

The House GOP’s move comes as Senate Democrats have scheduled a test vote on repealing the cuts for Monday afternoon.

The cuts to cost-of-living pension increases for military retirees under the age of 62 were part of December’s budget agreement, backed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

They have sparked an uproar among advocates for veterans, and lawmakers in both parties want to repeal them. The 10-year, $6 billion cost of repealing the cut would be borne by extending for an additional year a 2 percentage point cut to Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, as well as cuts to a handful of other benefit programs. Those cuts, known as sequestration, would now extend through 2024.

The House proposal comes as time is running out for lawmakers to act to lift the debt limit. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told lawmakers last week that Treasury will exhaust by Feb. 27 its ability to employ accounting maneuvers to borrow billions of dollars to pay its bills.

Lawmakers temporarily suspended the borrowing limit last October in an agreement that ended a government shutdown and extended the federal borrowing limit. With a fresh extension of borrowing authority now needed again, the GOP debt limit plan is likely to employ the same approach and suspend the debt limit through early next year.

Raising the limit is needed so the government, which ran a $680 billion deficit last year, can borrow enough to pay all its bills, including Social Security benefits, interest payments on the accumulated debt and government salaries.

After last year’s 16-day shutdown and accompanying debt battle, Republicans controlling the House are no longer interested in a big fight with President Barack Obama over raising the borrowing cap, preferring to keep the election-year focus on Obama’s unpopular health care law.

Obama gave in to GOP demands in 2011 to pair a $2.1 trillion increase in the debt limit with an equal amount in spending cuts, mostly to the Pentagon and domestic agency operating budgets. He has since refused to negotiate over the debt limit.

Republicans last year gave Obama two debt increases with only modest add-ons, like a provision to force the Senate to pass a federal budget.

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