RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The two-year, $2 trillion budget deal cleared the U.S. Senate this past week. Still, many senators voted against the legislation because it included one small item - a cut to military pensions. The item would produce some $6 billion in savings by shaving 1 percentage point off the annual increase in those retirement plans. And it won't affect all military pensions - just the benefits paid to veterans younger than 62. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Even though the budget compromise spares the Pentagon another round of painful across-the-board spending cuts next month, many of the staunchest military supporters in the Senate opposed it. New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte said it's not fair that working-age veterans have their retirement benefits reduced under the deal.
SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE: A sergeant first class who retires at age 40 could stand to lose $72,000 by the time he turns - or she turns - age 62.
WELNA: Once they turn 62, a cost of living correction would restore retirement payouts to where they would have been without the cuts. Still, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said those cuts show how insensitive the nation's become.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Every American - Republican, libertarian, vegetarian, Democrat - we all love the troops the troops. But your Congress is expressing that love in a very strange way. What, how far have we fallen? Do we have no shame?
WELNA: Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker wondered whether those who hammered out the deal realized how hard it would hit veterans.
SENATOR ROGER WICKER: Did the conferees realize the magnitude of what they were agreeing to?
SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: I would suggest that the senator ask that question to Chairman Ryan.
WELNA: That's the Senate Budget Committee's Democratic chairwoman, Patty Murray, who crafted the budget deal with her House counterpart, Republican Paul Ryan. It was too late, she said, to revise it.
MURRAY: Jeopardizing this deal right now only threatens our national security, and it will force layoffs of those very service members and civilian military personnel that so many members have come out here to speak for.
WELNA: Arizona Republican John McCain said because the cuts kick in two years from now, there's time for the armed services committee to replace them.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Senator Levin and I and all others have committed to reviewing this provision with the outlook, at least in my view, to repealing it if necessary.
AYOTTE: That is such a Washington answer.
WELNA: One that clearly was not good enough for New Hampshire Republican Ayotte.
AYOTTE: If you're serving our country right now in Afghanistan, what kind of comfort is that to you that we'll fix this down the line after we vote for this agreement?
WELNA: Many of the sixty four senators voting for the budget deal also lamented that it targeted younger veterans, even those who are disabled, for savings. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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