Updated 3:27 p.m. | The House easily passed a bill restoring military pensions that were cut last year, but not before momentary drama over whether Democrats would back the measure.
Because Republicans put the bill on the suspension calendar, it required a two-thirds vote, giving Democrats the ability to block it if they chose to. Top Democratic leaders signaled their opposition, but the bill passed 326-90.
But while opposition to the bill came short, it was still heated.
At one point during the vote, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., went over to Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the two whips had a spirited discussion. They appeared to be shouting at each other on the floor as a number of lawmakers looked on, including chief deputy whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Steve Southerland, R-Fla., and Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. An aide later confirmed they were arguing about the COLA bill.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hoyer called the military cost-of-living adjustment bill, which would extend benefits that were recently cut under the budget by extending sequestration levels for Medicare, "phony."
"I can tell you I'm going to vote 'no,' [Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi] is going to vote 'no,' but we haven't whipped this bill," Hoyer told CQ Roll Call. "You know, it violates so many principles."
Hoyer said the offset would extend sequestration "ad nauseam."
"Secondly," the Maryland Democrat said, "it seems to break the firewall that everyone's insisted in the Ryan-Murray agreement," referring to the recently-passed budget agreement brokered by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.
"And thirdly, it's going to take money from Medicare and senior's health for military retirees," Hoyer said. "We ought to not pit those against one another."
A floor defeat would have been another embarrassment for a GOP leadership who, unable to wrangle enough Republican support to pass their debt ceiling proposal, had to give the floor to Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase with as minimal Republican support as possible.
But blocking the the military COLA bill could have exposed Democrats to attacks, as the military retiree cutbacks have already become a political hot potato.
The Democratic Senate, meanwhile, is debating its own bill that doesn't contain any offset.
The House bill would pay for the military retiree benefits by extending sequestration levels for Medicare into 2024. It also would take the additional money that offset would provide — $2.3 billion — and establish a fund to pay for changes to the sustainable growth rate, which is the Medicare physician payment formula.