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Congress passes bill repealing retirement cuts for younger military veterans

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A bill repealing cuts to the cost-of-living adjustments for the retirement pay of military veterans is now in the hands of the White House, having passed both houses of Congress.

The effort to repeal the cuts came after the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act in December, which held cost-of-living increases for veterans under age 62 to 1 percentage point below inflation. The change was met with fierce opposition by national veterans organizations.

The Senate voted 95-3 for the measure Wednesday, one day after the House approved it, 326-90. The president is expected to sign it.

Among those supporting the repeal were U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

“To cut military pensions for our veterans was very wrong. These veterans have risked their lives for us and we owe it to them to make their lives a little bit easier when they safely return,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement. “The good news is that the COLA cut has been reversed and veterans across New York State and the country can breathe a sigh of relief.”

“I firmly believe the brave men and women who serve our country have earned their benefits, including a sound retirement,” Sen. Gillibrand said in her statement.“I am pleased Congress acted today to fulfill our promises to our service members, retirees, veterans and their families.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated restoring the benefits to the younger veterans, a group of about 750,000 retirees, will cost $6.8 billion over 10 years. However, it was said the benefit cuts would take away tens of thousands of dollars to veterans over the course of their lifetime.

The cost will be offset by extending previously-approved sequestration cuts elsewhere in the budget for another year, until 2024.

The bill’s existence also underscored the difficulty that lawmakers face when they try to restrain government benefit programs, which have largely escaped the impact of trillions of dollars in deficit cuts over the last three years.

“Year after year members of Congress simply refuse to stick by the budget discipline that we said we’d stick to. Exhibit one is before us today,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who cast one of the three votes against the measure’s passage. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Dan Coats, R-Ind., also opposed the bill.

The bill headed to the White House would only apply to those already in the service. Newcomers to the military would still have their cost of living increases held below the rate of inflation when they begin retiring, in two decades or more.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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