WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are moving ahead with an increase in the nation's debt limit in exchange for a reversal of minor cuts in military pensions that were part of the recent bipartisan budget deal.
House Republicans met late Monday to discuss the proposal, floated by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and supported by his leadership team. A vote on the measure could come as early as Wednesday.
The GOP bill would lift the borrowing limit through March 2015 and repeal a provision in a budget deal cut by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and signed into law in December that reduced by 1% the cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees.
Repealing the cut would cost $7 billion. Republicans would pay for it by extending certain mandatory spending cuts, known as the sequester, through 2024.
The cuts have sparked outrage from lawmakers in both parties as well as veterans' groups who say the cut breaks a fundamental promise made to military veterans. The Senate voted 94-0 on Monday night to move forward with a separate bill to repeal the military pension cut.
However, congressional budget hawks, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and top Pentagon officials have been warning Congress that the current fiscal path is unsustainable and threatens to eat up the defense budget if Congress does not find a way to reduce compensation benefits.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has informed Congress that the debt limit will be reached Feb. 27. Congress is out of session next week for the President's Day holiday, leaving few legislative days to approve the increase. The debt ceiling does not authorize new spending but rather allows the federal government to borrow money to cover expenses it has already approved.
The White House and congressional Democrats maintain they will not bargain over the debt ceiling, but there is significant support among Democrats to reinstate the pension cuts.
White House spokesman Jay Carney was non-committal Monday when asked about the military pension provision. "I'm not going to get into a 'What if this were the bill, or that were the bill?'," he said. "Our position has not changed. It hasn't changed for a long, long time. We're not negotiating over Congress' responsibility to pay its bills."