Congress Moves Ahead On Bill To Restore Veteran’s Benefits

Congress is working this week to protect military pensions from inflation. The U.S. House voted today (Tuesday) to restore a cut to the cost-of-living-allowance for retirees, and the Senate last night (Monday) voted to move forward with a bill to do the same. The Senate bill was sponsored by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, and, on the procedural vote, it passed 94-0. Still, as APRN’s Liz Ruskin reports, the bill’s fate is uncertain.

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When Congress passed its budget blueprint in December, the most controversial element was a $6 billion savings in military pensions. The idea was to dip the Cost of Living Allowance for veterans of working age, then restore full inflation-proofing once a veteran reaches age 62. Even before word of it stirred outrage among veterans, lawmakers of both parties were pledging to roll back the cut. At least a dozen bills were filed. The only one Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to move forward was sponsored by Begich and three other Democrats.

On the Senate floor, Begich urged colleagues to just pass the bill, with no amendments.

“Very, very simple. You vote yes, you’re for our vets. You vote no, you’re against are vets. That’s it.”

Some Republicans, though, are insisting on an offset – $6 billion from somewhere else to avoid adding to the deficit. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is among them.

“The good news is everyone in the body wants to undo the damage done to our military retirees. That’s good news. The bad news is we’re doing it in a fashion that would break the budget agreement, and I just don’t think that should be our choice.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has previously backed a plan to pay for the COLA restoration by not allowing illegal immigrants to claim the child credit on their taxes. The House version extends a cut to Medicare for an extra year.

Begich says some Republicans are trying to sink the bill because of the senators sponsoring it: himself, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. All four are Democrats up for re election this year in some of the tightest races in the country. The leadership’s decision to bring this particular bill to the floor gives them a chance to save the day for veterans. The Senate fight continues this week.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz