Enyart, Davis vow to restore military pension cuts

News-DemocratDecember 21, 2013 

Cathy Finch, 56, depends on every dime she gets from the pension she earned after 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Which is why Finch is so angry about a provision in the 2014 federal budget, adopted by the U.S. Senate, that would cut by 1 percent the cost of living increases for retirees under age 62. The cuts also would apply to vets who retired early because of an injury or illness. The aim is to save $6 billion over 10 years.

What rankles Finch is the fact no other class of federal retirees -- not civilian employees, not members of Congress or the judiciary -- are being targeted for benefits cuts.

"If they're going to cut, then they should cut for everyone or not at all," said Finch, of O'Fallon, who retired after 20 years with the rank of technical sergeant.

Responding to the outcry that's been building since Wednesday, when the Senate passed the budget, House Reps. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, have joined more than 100 of their chamber colleagues in vowing to restore full benefits to Finch and other military retirees under age 62.

The lawmakers plan to end the cost of living reductions when the U.S. House reconvenes on Jan. 7.

Enyart on Thursday announced his co-sponsorship of two House bills that would eliminate the cuts to cost of living adjustments, or COLA, for military retirees contained in the federal budget.

Enyart, who retired with the rank of an Army major general after serving as commander of the Illinois National Guard, said in a statement that he voted for the federal budget because it "represented the best opportunity for our divided government to keep its doors open for the next two years while reducing the deficit and bolstering military readiness."

But Enyart opposes the COLA reductions for the military retirees, according to his statement.

"Thankfully, these COLA changes are not scheduled to go into effect for two years," Enyart said in his statement. "This legislation has attracted widespread bi-partisan support to find alternatives before any of these ill-conceived reductions are instituted."

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, could not be reached for comment.

After the House passed the budget, bill Shimkus released a statement noting future federal employees would pay 1.3 percent more toward their retirement, and working age military retirees would get a slightly lower cost-of-living increase.

"These are all modest reforms, yet they are reforms that will pass a Democrat Senate and get signed into law by the President," Shimkus said on Dec. 12. "We continue to reduce the deficit without raising income taxes."

For his part, Davis has announced that he is already working with other House members to replace the cuts made to military retiree pensions by closing an IRS loophole. It allows the IRS to award billions of dollars each year through the child tax credit to unauthorized individuals, according to Davis.

"We're confident that both the House and the Senate will find a better way to reduce spending and prevent the cuts to our military retirees from taking place in 2015," Davis said in his statement. Davis' district includes parts of Madison County.

The plan to cut military retiree benefits has ignited a fiery round of complaints, with the sharpest criticism focused on how Congress is seeking to cut spending by targeting a relatively weak constituency -- military retirees -- instead of finding savings by closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest corporations and individuals.

Indeed, the day before the Senate passed the spending bill that cuts military retirees' benefits, the financial news website Bloomberg.com published an article highlighting how a loophole in the federal tax code has allowed America's richest families to evade $100 billion in federal estate taxes since 2000.

Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, for instance, has legally avoided paying about $2.8 billion in U.S. gift taxes since 2010 because of this loophole, the website reported.

The 2014 federal budget sent to President Barack Obama's desk does nothing to address this loophole.

For Fairview Heights resident John Blake, who retired as a senior master sergeant in 2006 from the Air Force Reserve after serving 34 years -- with half that time spent on active duty -- a basic principle of fairness is being violated by the cuts to retirees' pension benefits.

"To me there is such a disparity there," Blake said. "If you're looking to cut costs, then it should be across the board for all groups."

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 239-2533.

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