Republican Senators Battle Budget Cuts Targeting Military Retirees

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A handful of Senate Republicans are balking at a provision in the budget deal that would cut benefits to military retirees.

The deal would decrease the annual cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees by 1 percent, cutting approximately $6 billion in spending over 10 years.

The deal finds savings by "targeting military retirees," said Sen. James  Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Oklahoma senator is currently undecided.

And Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., cited the cuts as a deciding factor in their decision to vote against the bill.

The three sent a letter to Senate members Friday, calling for them to find alternative cuts to those proposed in the current agreement.

But the cuts appear likely to remain in the final deal, because trying to change the terms of the deal now would likely stall it, given that the House has recessed for the year.

Outside groups have also hit back hard against the provision. The Military Coalition, in a letter to House members, said that if the decrease in COLA is carried out it "will have a devastating financial impact for those who retire at the 20-year point by reducing retired pay by nearly 20 percent at age 62."

And Mike Barron, with the Military Officers Association of America, said that by suggesting the cuts, members of Congress are hurting a "key retention tool" need to help retain "a top-quality career force."

Barron also said the decision undercuts the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Committee, which is expected to look at ways to reform military pay. Their report isn't due until May 2014.

Their objections pit them against leaders in the Defense Department who have backed the budget deal. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, while acknowledging that even with the budget agreement the department still faces huge fiscal challenges, said that "it will help address our military readiness challenge by restoring funding for training and procurement, especially in the current fiscal year."

Even with the current cuts, Hagel noted that military leaders will have to find a balance between the size of the military and its readiness and capabilities.

The current battle could be all for naught, though. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that committee members will "review this change after we convene next year." The cuts aren't expected to take effect until December 2015.

He also suggested that Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Committee could impact the issue further.

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