Nevadans in Congress unite behind measure to restore full military pension increases

Wed, Feb 12, 2014 (4:08 p.m.)

The entire active Nevada delegation was on board as Congress voted this week to restore full cost-of-living adjustments to younger veterans whose pensions had been reduced under an earlier budget bill.

“I have welcome news for Nevada’s veterans: The Senate has restored earned retirement pay and this bill is now heading to the president’s desk for his signature,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement after the vote.

Veterans from Nevada and elsewhere had pushed back hard when Congress decided to suppress the cost-of-living adjustment for young veterans, keeping it at 1 percent below inflation.

Pressure to restore the COLA cuts partially clouded the air of celebration late last year around the two parties’ completion of a bipartisan budget agreement and also threatened to derail progress on the as-of-yet unfinished effort to restore unemployment benefits.

It was also unclear whether the bill, which on Tuesday passed the House 326-90, would clear the Senate on Wednesday.

The House version offset the $7 billion cost of the measure by extending pre-existing cuts in Medicare and other government programs for an additional year, through 2024. That provision made Senate Democrats uncomfortable.

Some Senate Republicans were uncomfortable, too. Many offered counterproposals.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., suggested paying for the offset by limiting immigrants without authorization to be in the country from claiming income-tax credits for their children. In an earlier form, that proposal potentially would have affected about 51,000 Nevada children – the highest percentage of such tax credit beneficiaries in any state.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who had spent the last few weeks campaigning with all manner of political partners for the restoration of the COLA cuts, proposed an amendment Tuesday to pay for the measure by extending pre-existing cuts not related to Medicare.

“Congress broke promises made to our nation’s veterans,” he said, arguing his amendment would “enable Congress to restore these unfair cuts without adding to our national debt.”

But in the end, the momentum from the House, a snowstorm bearing down on Washington and a lack of substitute bipartisan solution brought senators to support the House legislation. The measure passed 95-3 with both Nevada senators in favor.

“America’s debt to our veterans can never truly be repaid, but we must make an effort to provide them resources they need when they return home,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. “That includes, at the bare minimum, not targeting their pension for budget savings.”

“Those who serve our country deserve our full support,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., praising the “legislation to repeal this harmful adjustment to military retirement pay and protect our veterans’ financial security.”

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., also voted for the restoration of military pension benefits. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., did not vote; he has not returned to Washington since having surgery last month, from which he is still convalescing.

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