House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard 'Buck' McKeon, R-Calif., runs a March 14 hearing on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
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The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee wants to wait on major military compensation reform until next year, but may accept some smaller changes to pay and benefits in the current budget debate.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters on Thursday that military benefits are overdue for reform, but his preference would be to wait until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission completes its work before making any significant policy changes.
“I think it needs to be a big approach; we need to look at the whole package,” McKeon said. “It’s much better to do it all at one time than to be hitting [troops] a little bit every year. After a while, it really hurts morale.”
Defense-oriented lawmakers in the House and Senate have offered similar statements in recent weeks, criticizing the Pentagon’s decision to include in the fiscal 2015 budget proposal a smaller-than-inflation pay raise, a reduction in troops’ housing stipends, increases in commissary prices and a revamp of the Tricare health system.
But McKeon would not say whether those changes amount to major compensation reforms, or acceptable minor tweaks in the system.
“If there are some glaring things we can do now, we’ll do them,” he said.
The House Armed Services Committee will offer its drafts of the 2015 defense authorization bill when Congress returns from its two-week holiday break. How much of the pay and benefits changes the personnel subcommittee accepts will be made public April 29.
Defense officials have argued that the compensation trims, while unpalatable, are necessary to protect readiness and modernization efforts.
They’ve also insisted that the minor changes proposed are needed now, to ensure savings compound in coming years.
Retirement changes were not included in the fiscal 2015 budget proposals, and Pentagon leaders said they would hold off on those changes until after the commission report.
Waiting for the commission’s report would mean pushing off major reforms until next February and the fiscal 2016 budget debate, a month after McKeon is scheduled to retire from Congress.
Veterans advocates have warned that the trims in pay and benefits will result in a substantial loss of buying power for service members, especially junior enlisted troops whose pay hovers around the poverty line.