The House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to repeal a military pension benefit cut that was approved just two months ago, responding to an outcry from veterans groups in the run-up to November congressional elections.
The House voted 326-90 to pass the measure, just hours after Republicans abandoned a plan to attach it to a proposed increase in the federal debt ceiling.
Many House Republicans had objected to including the pension relief as a part of debt limit legislation because it increases near-term spending. Others believed that a veterans bill should not be linked to the debt ceiling.
But most lawmakers supported it as a stand-alone measure, putting it on a fast track to enactment. A similar bill in the U.S. Senate advanced past a procedural hurdle on Monday by a 94-0 vote.
The Senate bill's leading sponsor, Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas, predicted passage in coming days. "I think we will get it fixed this week," Pryor told reporters.
Pryor and several of the Senate bill's co-sponsors, such as Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska, are up for re-election in difficult races this year.
The cut in military pensions for working-age retirees would have affected about 750,000 people, according to government estimates. It was passed in December as part of a bipartisan House-Senate deal that replaced two years' worth of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester with more targeted savings.
The 1 percent reduction in cost-of-living increases for military retirees would have pared $7 billion in spending over 10 years.
The bill that passed the House on Tuesday would use cuts in other federal programs to pay for restoring the benefits, but Pryor's Senate bill does not have "pay-for" provisions.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, on Tuesday proposed an amendment that she said would pay for restoring the benefits by reducing fraud in a federal child tax credit program.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, said he opposed the House measure because it would shift some military spending cuts to domestic programs, namely the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.
Congress already has repealed the part of the benefit cut that applied to disabled veterans.
If Congress repeals the entire provision, as expected, it would be scrapping a long-term "entitlement" program cut, the kind that many deficit cutters say is necessary to tackle long-term budget problems.
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