Week Ending February 14, 2014
Debt Ceiling Extended Through March 2015
The three year, high stakes game of chicken over the debt ceiling ended not with a bang, but with a whimper this week with the passage of a debt extension bill without extraneous policies attached to it. However, that is not to say that the partisan divide on the issue has been bridged. House GOP leaders, after failing to rally support to pass any alternative, were forced to rely on Democratic votes to reach the necessary 218 threshold to pass the legislation. In a 221 to 201 vote, only 28 Republicans supported the measure. This “clean” extension of the debit ceiling followed weeks of speculation concerning what demands House GOP leaders might attach to get their support. Following the House vote, the Senate moved quickly and passed the increase by a vote of 55 to 43, along party lines.
Congress Restores Veterans’ Pensions COLAs; Child Tax Credit is Protected
Not unexpectedly, both the House and Senate voted this week to restore the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for military veterans who are younger than 62, which had been cut by one percentage point as part of December’s budget agreement (PL 113-67). However, the cut to veteran pensions would remain in place for service members who join the military after January 1, 2014.
While reversing the COLA cut was not controversial, whether and how to pay for this additional spending was contentious. The House-passed bill is paid for by extending some across-the-board cuts (“sequester”) for one year, through fiscal year 2024. And, after some uncertainty on what legislation would pass the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to hold a vote on the House-passed bill which passed the Senate by a vote of 95 to 3. Before then, the Senate was poised to consider a proposal from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) (S. 1963) which did not include any offset for repealing the reduction in veterans’ COLAs. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) submitted an amendment that would have offset the cost by denying the refundable Child Tax Credit to children of immigrant working parents if the child does not have a Social Security number. This amendment would have affected one million DREAMers – children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents without immigration documentation. It would have reduced the net income of tax-paying workers by an average of $1,800 annually, driving more children into poverty when child poverty is already at the highest level in decades. By voting for the House-passed bill, a vote on Sen. Ayotte’s amendment was avoided.
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