Senate Republicans in a Box on Veterans Benefits

“That’s not an ideal pay-for, in part because it is so distant,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. “That’s not an ideal pay-for, in part because it is so distant,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Senate Democrats are determined to get a bill reversing $6 billion in controversial cuts to veterans benefits through the chamber this week without offsetting the cost. Their message: Veterans have “paid in full” their debt to the nation and shouldn’t be used as budget pawns.

The effort is in sharp defiance of a majority of Republicans who argue that the cost of reversing the cuts in pension benefits should be offset in order to keep intact the bipartisan budget agreement reached last year.

Proving that a bipartisan pay-for is achievable, the House passed a bill Tuesday, 326-90, that would pay for repealing the cuts in veterans benefits by extending mandatory sequestration cuts an additional year. The measure has support from 120 Democrats.

But the House proposal was shot down immediately by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and reaction was mixed among Senate Republicans, with some citing fears that pledges to make cuts later can easily be broken.

“That’s not an ideal pay-for, in part because it is so distant,” said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. “The promise of distant future spending cuts is not at all optimal.”

Breaking from the now-infamous tradition of preventing Republicans from offering amendments, the Senate is expected to actually allow a vote on a pay-for favored by Senate Republicans, according to senators and aides involved. A vote on the pay-for from Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire that would close the child tax credit to undocumented immigrants could come as soon as Wednesday.

But without Democratic support, the measure is doomed to fail. Unless Democrats suddenly change their tune and strike a compromise on an offset, the building dynamic is to put Republicans in a box of having to either support unwinding the cuts outright—as the bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., would do—or being forced to vote against it over the lack of offset.

“I can’t vote for it” without a pay-for, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a defense hawk. “That’s a false choice. I’m the guy that brought up the inequity of the pay-for,” he said about using the cost-of-living adjustment cuts in the budget deal. “That is a lousy way; we ought to go out and shoot the person who came up with this idea, but you don’t want to break the Budget Control Act, so let’s find another pay-for.... I’ve never been of the mind-set that in order to fix this you’ve got to break the budget agreement.”

The Senate majority’s clear goal is to undo the 1-percentage-point cut to COLA without an offset, claim victory, and go home to reap the political rewards over the Presidents Day recess. This was something Democrats made plain on Tuesday.

“This bill is very, very simple to me—it’s a veterans’ bill,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D‑Alaska, at a press conference with Pryor and several other Democrats sponsoring the bill. “You are for veterans or you are not. That’s the vote we will be taking. We made a promise we need to keep.... These veterans have already paid the price.”

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana echoed that sentiment, saying that getting hung up over an offset is essentially disrespectful to the troops.

“The 127 men and women [from Louisiana] who have already paid for this bill with their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the thousands of veterans in Louisiana, are wondering why we are debating an offset,” she said.

“Whatever was owed they have already paid, and that is the issue in this bill.”

Senate Democrats could well get their way, given how politically untenable it is to take any vote that is equated with being against veterans, particularly in an election year.

Republicans last week had been expected to vote against even proceeding to a debate on the Pryor bill because it lacked a pay-for, but they abruptly changed course Monday and the chamber voted unanimously to proceed to the bill.

“I’m for fixing the COLA first and foremost,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. “The pay-for is a secondary issue.”

Democrats are banking on that pressure to score them another win in the Senate, leaving the question of how to work out a resolution with the House for another day.


Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.