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.
On the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Pryor urged colleagues to support his bill that would 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.
A procedural vote, requiring a 60-vote majority, was scheduled for later Monday. Regardless of the outcome, Senate Democrats plan to continue debate on the pension issue this week and have another proposal lined up should Pryor’s fail.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said he would support continued debate on the bill in the hopes that it could be amended to replace the savings through an alternative source.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., was also expected to vote to move forward with the bill.
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," Weaver said.
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.