- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2013

Two veterans groups demanded Thursday that President Obama veto the budget bill Congress passed earlier this week, saying that the cuts to military retirement benefits — which even the bill’s authors now admit were a partial mistake — are an insult to former troops.

“As commander in chief, President Obama is the leader of the nation’s armed forces and he has a duty to protect the interests of all military members, both active and retired. He needs to veto the bill,” said Gary Stubblefield, a retired Navy SEAL commander and chairman of Special Operations for America.

Another group, the Fleet Resource Association, told The Washington Times on Thursday that it is also asking Mr. Obama to veto the bill.

Mr. Obama has previously praised the agreement, and the White House gave no indication on Thursday that he’s having second thoughts.

But the veterans’ retirement benefits cut has dinged what was being billed as a major bipartisan compromise, reached by House Republicans and Senate Democrats.

The bill boosts spending in the short term in exchange for longer-term fee hikes and spending cuts.

But it includes a provision that would reduce the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees to 1 percent less than the rate of consumer inflation — and even reduces payments for veterans who were wounded in action. The cut will go into effect in 2015 and is expected to save more than $6 billion over 10 years.

Some groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said a veto is unrealistic.

“Nobody can realistically expect that the House and Senate will come back … and come to an agreement,” said Joe Davis, a national spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We have to face the political reality.”

Instead, those groups said they’ll try to pressure Congress to fix the problem in another bill early next year.

Mr. Davis said the VFW plans to meet with Congress members to gain their support, while Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for IAVA, said staff members will focus their attention on Washington when lawmakers return in January.

This isn’t the first time the special operations community has clashed with the president. Many have publicly spoken out against the president’s possible leaks to Hollywood for movies like “Zero Dark Thirty,” and have criticized the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack.

Even as the Senate was passing the flawed bill this week, members of both houses of Congress were scrambling to introduce legislative fixes. Some bills would just provide relief for wounded veterans while others would include all military retirees.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has been a vocal supporter of a fix and asked Mr. Obama to hold off on signing the bill and give Congress a chance to fix the provision before it becomes law.

“How hard is it to change the law once it’s passed? Extremely hard. We’re going to run in to special interest groups who say you can’t fix it because it hurts my people. That’s coming,” he said Wednesday night after the bill passed the Senate.

Even though the majority of Congress members seem to support a fix, it still won’t be easy. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, introduced a bill to replace the cuts by closing offshore corporate tax loopholes — something Republicans took off the table before budget talks had even begun.

On the other side, Mr. Graham and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, suggested paying for the change by better regulating food stamp eligibility and child earned income tax credits to prevent fraud.

• Jacqueline Klimas can be reached at jklimas@washingtontimes.com.

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