House appropriators on Tuesday soundly rejected Pentagon pay and benefits trims in their $570 billion defense appropriations bill for next year, another indicator that military planners will have to wait for any real compensation reform.
The measure includes $128 billion for military personnel spending, $830 million less than what the White House had asked for in its fiscal 2015 spending plan, and $31.6 billion for military health and family programs, $360 million below what the White House wanted.
But even with those reductions, the House Appropriations Committee plan includes full funding for housing allowances next year, money for a 1.8 percent basic pay raise, $100 million more for defense commissaries to preserve their discounts and millions in new health research projects.
Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the moves ensure “troops have the quality of life they deserve during their service” by keeping pay and benefits at a comfortable level.
“A strong military begins with well-cared-for servicemen and -women,” he said.
The House committee becomes the third congressional panel to reject the majority of the Pentagon’s compensation proposals for fiscal 2015, disappointing news for defense leaders who spent most of the spring trying to convince lawmakers that some benefits changes must be made to preserve readiness and modernization accounts.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee last month also rejected Pentagon proposals to steadily trim the commissary benefit and housing stipends, and offered nominal support for a pay raise above the 1 percent requested by department leaders, although without specifically mandating the higher raise in its version of the 2015 defense authorization bill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s plan backs the Pentagon’s desired 1 percent pay raise, but rejects the commissary and housing stipend cuts and a proposed overhaul to the Tricare system.
Combined, those moves could save around $12 billion in defense spending over the next five years, defense planners have argued.
But the moves have found little support among outside advocates and many lawmakers, who have repeatedly said they think any major changes should wait until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission issues its recommendations on the topic next February.
To offset the extra funding, the House Appropriations Committee includes $547 million in savings from “favorable foreign currency fluctuations,” $592 million in overestimation of civilian personnel costs, and $965 million in unused prior-year funding.
The panel also included an extra $150 million for medical facility upgrades, $125 million for traumatic brain injury and psychological health research, and $39 million for suicide prevention outreach programs.
The commmittee also went along with Pentagon plans to retire the A-10 Warthog fleet, a controversial move that both armed services panels already have rejected. An amendment reallocating about $330 million to keep the planes flying next year was defeated during Tuesday’s committee debate.
Rogers noted that Tuesday’s passage of the committee’s plan was the earliest action on defense budgeting by that panel since 1974. Still, the measure must pass the full chamber and be reconciled with the Senate’s version of the 2015 defense appropriations bill before final compromise legislation can be sent to the White House to become law.
House and Senate leaders have said they hope to get that work done before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, but Congress has only six legislative weeks scheduled before its pre-election summer break.