Editorial: Federal budget deal is worth supporting
U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte were both in New Hampshire this week talking about the new bipartisan federal budget plan that recently passed the House. Their messages were starkly different.
Shaheen, who supports the deal, told workers at BAE Systems in Nashua, “While the bipartisan budget isn’t the exact budget I would have crafted, I will support the measure because it’s good for jobs and our economy. This budget will create certainty for small businesses and families and help boost economic growth, create jobs and avoid another government shutdown. It represents the kind of compromise and cooperation that people in New Hampshire and across the country expect from their leaders in Washington.”
Ayotte, who opposes the deal, gathered with veterans in Merrimack to decry cuts to military retiree benefits – an element of the plan she has called a deal-breaker. “Military retirees are being unfairly singled out in this budget deal. We need to stand with the brave men and women who have defended our nation, and the cuts to military retiree benefits need to be replaced. We can find $6 billion to replace these cuts instead of asking our military retirees to sacrifice even more, and I’m working to replace these unfair cuts.”
Then yesterday, when the Senate gathered to take an initial, procedural vote on the budget bill, the senators did as they said: Shaheen voted yes, Ayotte no.
In this case, Shaheen is right. When the Senate takes a final vote on the measure, Ayotte – who drew broad praise a few weeks back for her role in ending the government shutdown and chastising grandstanders from her own party – should reconsider.
At issue is a budget deal struck by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. It sets government spending levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, replacing most of the across-the-board budget cuts with a mix of targeted spending cuts and revenue increases. Most important, it ends the threat of another government shutdown circus.
Ayotte’s objection is to an element of the plan that slows the rate of increase in cost-of-living adjustments to military retirees. The measure applies to those retirees who serve 20 years and retire before age 62. Ryan has defended the measure as modest, and as a way to protect the military from more dramatic cuts.
He also points to the measure’s “catchup provision,” which means that at age 62, a retiree’s pension goes up to where it would have been without the COLA reduction. But in the meantime, that gap means that retirees would take a significant financial hit over time.
Reasonable people can disagree over whether military retirees are being treated unfairly. But the measure won’t even take effect until 2016. Ayotte and like-minded senators could vote for the broader budget deal now and work to reverse the pension measure afterward.
Indeed, Ryan said he and Murray purposely delayed implementation to give Congress time to come up with comparable savings from alternative means. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, Ayotte is in a strong position to work on this issue.
And, in fact, Shaheen announced late yesterday that she would sponsor legislation to undo the problem: She would make up the cost savings from the military pensions by eliminating select corporate tax loopholes.
Not long ago Ayotte chided holdout Republicans for playing games with the federal budget and the national economy. She was right then.
Compromise is important. There’s no reason now for her to reject a deal that will go a long way toward restoring faith in Congress’s ability to conduct the affairs of state with some level of seriousness.