WASHINGTON — Congress voted Wednesday to restore full cost-of-living pension increases for younger military retirees, completing a bipartisan capitulation to veterans groups that rose up against a modest cut when it was enacted less than two months ago.
The Senate voted 95-3 for the measure, one day after the House approved it, 326-90. The White House said President Barack Obama would sign it.
The overwhelming support the bill enjoyed, including backing by many prominent deficit hawks, reflected the clout that veterans groups enjoy, particularly in an election year.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who opposed the cut when it was first passed, said the legislation restores the benefits “and protects the budget savings achieved by the latest budget deal.”
The bill’s existence also underscored the chronic difficulty that lawmakers face when they try to restrain government benefit programs, which largely escaped the impact of trillions of dollars in deficit cuts over the last three years.
“Year after year members of Congress simply refuse to stick by the budget discipline that we said we’d stick to. Exhibit one is before us today,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who cast one of the three votes against the measure’s passage. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Dan Coats, R-Ind., also opposed the bill.
Under legislation that passed in December, annual cost-of-living increases for veterans age 62 and younger would have been held to 1 percentage point below the rate of inflation. The change would have begun in 2015. The Veterans of Foreign Wars welcomed the legislative reversal with a statement: “The world will remain a very dangerous and unpredictable place even after America ends its involvement in Afghanistan, and future military retirees will be required to serve just as long and perhaps sacrifice even more than their predecessors.”
Pentagon officials said reducing their personnel expenses is a top priority in view of budget cutbacks, and a commission is expected to make recommendations later this year on reining in costs.
Several critics said it was particularly unfair to apply a cut to military pensions when other benefit programs were largely going unscathed.