On a day when Members and Senators were anxious to leave Washington ahead of a major snowstorm, Congress yesterday completed legislation addressing two major political issues: the debt ceiling and reversing a decrease in military retiree cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had been warning Congress that the debt ceiling would be breached in early March.
The Senate followed the House yesterday and passed a “clean’ bill that suspends the debt ceiling through March 15, 2015, rather than setting a new debt ceiling limit. Over the next 13 months, the government will be able to continue borrowing to pay its bills.
The White House and Senate Democrats had insisted on a “clean” bill to increase the debt ceiling. But, House Republicans wanted House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to extract concessions from the White House on other hot button issues such as the Keystone pipeline, the military retiree COLA fix, or changes to the Affordable Health Care Act, in exchange for a debt ceiling increase.
When it became clear that House Republican Caucus could not agree on any one proposed concession to leverage the White House, Speaker Boehner told fellow Republicans the House would vote on a “clean” debt ceiling bill. The House then passed the bill 221-201, with only 28 Republicans joining 193 Democrats in favor of passage.
The debt ceiling issue is now laid aside as a political issue until after the congressional elections in November.
The Senate also approved (95-3) a bill passed by the House (326-90) to reverse a 1 percent cut in the COLA for working age military retirees (62 or under) that was included in the budget agreement passed in December. Many members opposed to the cut have been working with veterans’ organizations to restore the full COLA.
In the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill, Congress had exempted medically retired servicemembers and recipients of survivor benefit plan annuities from the 1 percent reduction included in the budget agreement. In this bill Congress restores full COLAs for all military retirees.
Senate Democrats had wanted a clean bill that did not offset the $6 billion cost of reversing the COLA cut. But, the House insisted on an offset to the fix by extending the Medicare sequestration for an additional year. In the end, the Senate agreed to the House offset.