By CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (ret.)
On Wednesday, the Senate passed legislation to fix the military Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) reduction by a vote of 95 to 3. Without passage, working age retirees would have had their COLA reduced by 1 percent annually starting in 2016.
The vote brings an end to a dynamic debate in which despite a common agreement over a need for a fix, funding predictably became a point of contention. The national debate underscored a more glaring disparity for members of the Reserve and Guard who do not see a retirement check until age 60, let along a 2 percent cost of living adjustment annually from age 40 to 62. The comparative inequality of Reserve retirement made them the least affected group, facing only 1 year of COLA reduction. Not opposing a fix, ROA supported solutions that would not affect readiness or training funding as without an offset solution, the Department of Defense would have borne the expense.
The day before in a lopsided 326-90 vote, the House passed legislation that would restore COLA that was reduced under the bi-partisan Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2013 that was passed in December by Congress. As the House waived rules to consider the fix, it required a 2/3rds vote for passage. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WS., co-author of the 2013 BCA, blasted the House bill as a way of dodging needed reforms to military retirement compensation, according to the Washington Post.
While the Senate had several pieces of legislation of their own, a bill introduced by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., which was to be the first considered by that body, was sidetracked in favor of the House legislation. Faced with a snow storm that threatened Washington, D.C. on Wednesday evening, the choice was made for an expedited passage, rather than a prolonged debate over the Pryor legislation. The Pryor bill had no funding source, which would have caused deliberations between Democrats and Republicans on how to pay the $5.5 billion that the correction would have cost. Democrats disliked the House solution of extending sequestration until 2014 on Medicare, but recognized the importance of fixing the COLA reduction. DoD budgeting were changed by the COLA bill.
Over 15 bills were introduced in Congress by elected officials to correct the COLA reduction for active duty military retirees under the age of 62. Support for most bills split along party lines based on disagreements over how to pay for the correction.