Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a Republican attempt to restore military pensions cut in last month’s budget deal, denying a vote that would save up to $20 billion by closing a loophole that allows tax refunds to go to illegal aliens.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) called an effort by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) to repeal the military retiree cuts "fiddling while Rome burns."
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) "filled the amendment tree" on Thursday, ending debate and blocking any Republican amendments to a bill to extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.
Among them was Ayotte’s measure, which would repeal cuts to military pensions by ending a loophole in the tax code that allows illegal immigrants to receive the Additional Child Tax Credit. Her attempt to get a vote failed 42-54, with only one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), voting with Republicans.
"It’s a sad day when a common sense amendment to responsibly pay for legislation that helps struggling Americans, repeals unfair military retirement benefits and reduces the deficit can’t even get a vote in the Senate," Ayotte said in a statement.
The amendment would have repealed a provision in the budget deal that hits military retirees with a 1 percent decrease in their annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), which could cost servicemembers up to $124,000 in lost retirement pay. Federal civilian retiree pensions were not cut.
The budget agreement also did not exempt disabled military retirees despite early assurances from the House Budget Committee. The cuts will save an estimated $6 billion over 10 years.
Ayotte offered her plan, the "Keeping Our Promise to Our Military Heroes Act’’ (S. 1869), as an amendment to the UI bill. The measure would require a Social Security number in order for an individual to receive the Additional Child Tax Credit. Ayotte’s office said the bill would save approximately $20 billion over 10 years.
According to the Treasury Inspector General for the Tax Administration (TIGTA), the refund provides incentives for aliens to enter the country illegally and cost taxpayers $4.2 billion alone in fraudulent payments in 2010.
Earlier this week, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D., Mich.) backed away from support of Ayotte’s bill after first signaling his support. Levin was not aware of how the measure offset the cuts, and does not agree with closing the loophole that allows illegal immigrants to receive tax credits.
Ayotte attempted to get a vote on her amendment on Thursday, amidst objections by Boxer. Ayotte said the amendment would simply require a Social Security number in order to receive the tax credit and cited a letter from an unnamed Democrat senator, who in 2011, called on the IRS commissioner to stop the unauthorized payments "immediately."
"The investigations of this tax refund found that they were claiming it for people who were, number one, not authorized to work in this country, and secondly, for children that may not even exist," Ayotte said, before requesting a vote.
"Talk about fiddling while Rome burns," she said. "If you are one of the 1.3 million people in this country—222,000 in my state—whose house is burning down because they’re going to lose the safety net of $300 a week to feed their families, to take care of their kids, to heat their homes, and my colleague talks about letters?"
Boxer said all of the Republican amendments were "partisan," and criticized Ayotte’s statements on removing the tax loophole.
"If there was one corrupt senator here—and there could be, or there might be, and there was in the past—and everyone of us got painted with that brush?" she said. "What you did in your speech is to taint every poor child who happens to benefit from that credit."
"Let us not go down that partisan route," Boxer said. "Let us support our leader."
"This is nothing about protecting children," Ayotte responded. "Unless you’re trying to protect children that may not exist, or you’re trying to protect children who don’t live in the United States of America. This is about protecting abuse within the tax code, which again, I have a letter from a member of her caucus who recognized this problem as well based on a Treasury IG report done under this administration. This amendment is about protecting the American taxpayer."
"We need to be able to have votes on behalf of our states, on behalf of the American people, and if we disagree, let’s vote them down," she added. "I don’t see what the issue is there, unless you’re worried that it’s going to pass because it just makes too much sense."