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House approves higher pension contributions to avoid defense cuts

Dec. 20, 2012 - 09:08PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
The U.S. Congress on Dec. 20 approved part of House Speaker John Boehner's so-called fiscal “Plan B” measure that would cancel pending deep defense cuts. (AFP)
The U.S. Congress on Dec. 20 approved part of House Speaker John Boehner's so-called fiscal “Plan B” measure that would cancel pending deep defense cuts. (AFP) (AFP)

The House on Thursday night approved part of House Speaker John Boehner’s so-called fiscal “Plan B” measure that would cancel pending deep defense cuts and protect the Pentagon budget from cuts this year.

The defense sequestration-canceling portion of the controversial bill passed 215-209 in a mostly party-line vote. The House had been expected to vote later in the night on the second part, which would raise tax rates on Americans who earn more than $1 million annually. But Boehner said in a statement he had pulled that measure due to insufficient GOP votes.

The portion of the bill that passed would replace sequestration budget cuts at the Defense Department in part by increasing federal employees’ contributions to their pension funds by five percentage points over five years. It also would end the Social Security supplement at retirement for federal employees hired beginning in 2013.

However, it has no chance of becoming law. The White House said Obama would veto the bill. It appears doubtful the Senate will take up either part of the Boehner legislation.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association in an email earlier this week called the pension measure “a smack in the face to America’s federal employees who have already sacrificed $103 billion for budget savings.”

House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member Jim Moran, D-Va., in a brief interview outside the House chamber, slammed Boehner and House Republicans for proposing to cancel the defense sequestration cuts while leaving in place an equal cut to domestic entitlement programs. Because the defense cuts would be canceled, it appears domestic programs would take an even larger funding hit.

“Not one defense CEO that I’ve talked to has told me he wants his [weapons] program funded at the expense of people in need,” Moran told Defense News.

“It’s not wise politically for this legislation to say, ‘No more defense cuts,’ ” Moran said. “If given appropriate discretion, the defense budget could absorb another $500 billion reduction.”

Posted late Wednesday by the House Rules Committee, Boehner’s Plan B addition would require $19 billion in new discretionary spending cuts, while allowing the president and the Office of Management and Budget to conduct a sequestration round if fiscal 2013 discretionary spending levels exceed specific limits, known as caps.

But the Boehner measure would prohibit the president from tapping the defense budget in 2013 to get under spending caps.

The House vote came even as Boehner remains in talks with Obama about a broad deficit-reduction plan ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline, after which the nation would plunge off the cliff and the 10-year defense and domestic cuts would be triggered.

Obama told reporters Wednesday that he and Boehner are relatively close to striking such a deal.

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