Dem Backs Off Support for Amendment Saving Military Pensions

Update: Levin says he cannot support closing loophole ending welfare for illegal immigrants

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D., Mich.)/ AP
January 7, 2014

Update Tuesday, Jan. 7, 4:25 PM: Sen. Levin now says he does not support Sen. Ayotte's bill due to its closing of the loophole that allows illegal immigrants to receive tax credits. Levin's office said he supports eliminating pension cuts to military retirees, but was unaware of how Ayotte's legislation offset the cuts.

His spokesman told the Hill: "Sen. Levin would support legislation to repeal the military pension cuts if such an amendment didn’t endanger underlying legislation and if he supported the offset. He doesn’t support the offset in Sen. Ayotte's legislation, so he couldn’t offer support for her legislation."

[Original story below]

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said he would support a bill repealing cuts to military pensions, a controversial provision included in last month’s bipartisan budget deal.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation on Dec. 19 to replace the cuts by closing a loophole that allows illegal immigrants to receive tax credits. Chairman Carl Levin (D., Mich.) said Tuesday he would back Ayotte’s bill as an amendment.

"I’ll vote for it when it’s offered," Levin said, according to the Hill.

A number of lawmakers have offered alternatives to the provision that hits military retirees with a one percent decrease in their annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), which could cost service members as much as $124,000 in lost retirement pay. The budget agreement also did not exempt disabled military retirees, despite early assurances from the House Budget Committee.

Ayotte’s plan is aligned with attempts made by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) to add an amendment to the budget deal that would have scrapped the cuts in favor of denying "welfare" for illegal immigrants.

The "Keeping Our Promise to Our Military Heroes Act’’ (S. 1869) would require taxpayers to provide their Social Security number in order to be eligible for the Refundable Child Tax Credit, which illegal aliens currently use to obtain billions in fraudulent tax refunds. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) cosponsored the bill.

According to the Joint Tax Commission, eliminating the loophole would save $7 billion over 10 years, more than enough to offset the estimated $6 billion in savings achieved by cutting military pensions.

"The budget deal unfairly singled out military retirees by cutting their hard-earned retirement benefits—including disabled veterans who retire because of their injuries," Ayotte said in a statement when introducing her bill.

"My legislation is just one approach that would easily replace these unfair cuts," she said. "With the Congressional Budget Office estimating that the federal government will spend $47 trillion over the next decade, the notion that we can't find $6 billion from somewhere else is absolutely ridiculous."

Ayotte’s bill could be offered as an amendment to the upcoming omnibus spending bill in the Senate, though Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) blocked a similar amendment put forward by Sessions when the budget deal was passed.

Levin said he would vote for the measure "unless it in some ways messes up a bill that I favor." He added that he plans on holding a hearing on the matter, in case Ayotte’s plan does not make its way into the legislation, which lawmakers expect to finalize this week.

"I’ll vote for it, but what I want to do is focus on a hearing in case it doesn’t work that way," he said. "The main problem is that it was singled out, and how you can overcome that problem without a greater entitlement reform is one of the issues which someone needs to address in testimony."