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Military pension cut sparks Senate debate


WASHINGTON – Democrats and Republicans clashed Monday over military pension benefits in what has become the latest conflict in the heated Arkansas race for U.S. Senate.

The Senate opened debate Monday on a proposal by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to restore military pension benefits that were reduced as part of last year’s budget resolution.

Members of both parties have vowed to restore the estimated $6 billion in cuts that would fall on working-age veterans over the next decade. But, they disagree on how to make the fix and there is loud partisan rancor over who should get credit.

The Pryor bill survived an early procedural test Monday evening. The Senate voted, 94-0, to move forward with debate. Some Republicans, however, cautioned that they want the bill revised before it clears the Senate.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., urged his colleagues to allow the bill to move forward saying there are other ways available to reduce the budget – and that he hopes the Senate majority will allow for amendments.

Pryor spoke on the Senate floor earlier Monday to urge colleagues to support his proposal to fully restore cost-of-living adjustments to military pensions with no additional adjustment to the budget.

“Let’s give our soldiers and their families the unwavering support they’ve given us. Let’s just put the partisanship aside and lets’ pass this bill. Our military members and their families are counting on us,” Pryor said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., argued against the bill saying that it should be paid for rather than simply pile on more federal debt.

“That’s the path of fiscal irresponsibility and financial danger, and we need to get off of that,” Sessions said.

Off the Senate floor, the pension issue sparked a flurry of campaign activity in the race between Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.

Justin Brasell, campaign manager for Cotton, said that Pryor is playing political games with veterans’ retirement benefits to deflect the backlash he has received for supporting the budget resolution in the first place.

“Asking America’s veterans to shoulder the consequences of Washington’s out-of-control spending is bad enough, but playing political games on this issue is beyond the pale,” Brasell said.

Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Pryor, said that it is Cotton who is manipulating the issue for political gain – voting against an omnibus budget this year because it did not restore the benefits while supporting a plan in 2011 to eliminate the cost-of-living adjustment entirely.

“While Congressman Cotton’s Washington insider allies were attacking Mark because he refuses to privatize veterans’ benefits, Mark was leading the charge to restore these cuts on behalf of our men and women in uniform.”

Military advocates, including the VFW and Military Officers Association of America, have come out forcefully against the pension change that would impact military retirees under age 62 starting in 2016.