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Washington Beat: Bipartisan Budget Deal Passes Senate

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The Senate on Wednesday passed a bipartisan, two-year budget deal, temporarily bringing Washington's budget battles to an end, but the bill trims benefits for some military retirees, and that’s drawing criticism. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report.

The bipartisan budget package, which has plenty for lawmakers on both sides to dislike, advanced through the Senate Wednesday. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand voted in favor of the bill.

The agreement sailed through the House last week, but it’s been a source of deep division among Senate Republicans, in part because it increases overall spending for the next two years.

Included in the budget agreement is a provision that cuts retirement benefits for current and future military retirees. It reduces by 1 percent the annual cost of living adjustment for military retirees under the age of 62.

Advocacy groups say the military was unfairly singled out.

"We've had 600,000 now veterans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan that are now veterans and retired and are counting on that pension that they were told they earned," said Vice Admiral Norb Ryan, president of Military Officers Association of America.

Ryan said that the average cut in pension payouts for a retiring Army Sergeant First Class would be about $3,700 each year.

"This is also about a hugely important principle of the all-volunteer force: honoring the commitment to the men and women who serve, and this is the most distressing thing about this backroom deal," Ryan said.

Democrat Patty Murray, who co-wrote the budget bill, said that lawmakers have plenty of time to find a solution before the cuts take effect in 2016, and a group of Republican Senators have vowed to do just that.

“I don't have any doubt whatsoever that if we were able to come up with an appropriate 'pay-for' and a substitute for this cut in military pensions that it would pass like a hot knife through butter in the House of Representatives," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

However, it's a solution that some see as coming too late.

"I’m glad that they're thinking about fixing it before it comes into play financially, but it's already come into play from walking back on this commitment that the troops thought was sacred," Ryan said.

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