Bigger pay raise for troops hits opposition in Senate
Stars and Stripes | .
published: May 11, 2016
WASHINGTON — A House proposal to give troops their biggest pay raise in years ran into opposition Tuesday from Senate lawmakers.
A key Senate panel said it is backing the Obama administration proposal of a 1.6 percent military raise for the coming year, a rate that again falls below private sector wage growth and is at odds with the 2.1 percent pay hike that is part of the House’s defense budget bill.
The opposing numbers indicate Congress will again wrestle over how big of a raise to dole out as it crafts a defense budget. Last year, President Barack Obama ordered a 1.3 percent raise after a protracted House and Senate debate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, unveiled the pay proposal in an early preview of an annual military budget bill called the National Defense Authorization Act.
“At the end of the day, if we can’t come together to take care of our men and women [in uniform] we’ve lost our way up here,” Graham said. “Let it be said that we did come together.”
The smaller Senate proposal equals an additional $36 per month in pay for an E4 with three or more years of experience.
The Armed Services Committee is expected to vote Thursday or Friday on the massive bill, which also includes reforms to Tricare and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he said.
Meanwhile, the House is moving ahead with its 2.1 percent hike, which equals an additional $48 per month for the same servicemember.
The raise was passed late last month by the House Armed Services Committee and is expected to come up for a final floor vote next week as part of the chamber’s version of the NDAA.
Typically, the House and Senate must reconcile any differences in the two versions of the NDAA bill. But Congress has another option if it cannot reach agreement — stay silent and let Obama choose the amount to increase pay.
The president used an executive order for the current 1.3 percent increase in military pay. Pay raises have hovered at about that percentage since 2011, which critics have said means armed services pay is lagging behind the general public.
For now, it is unclear who will win the debate in Congress.
In the House, Democrats have already raised concerns about the larger pay raise, saying it would cost $330 million amid a very tight defense budget. Any increase must survive the coming House floor vote.
But the higher raise has support from Rep. Mac Thornberry, the House Armed Services chairman who is proposing a big boost in defense money for the coming year.
In what the Pentagon has called a “gamble,” Thornberry, R-Texas, wants to cover $18 billion in spending above what the Obama administration has proposed, including the pay raise and a bigger Army, by taking money from the war fund to fight the Islamic State group. The next president and Congress would have to approve more funding for the war next year.