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Senate panel backs 1 percent pay increase

Jul. 15, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Senate appropriators plan to fund only a 1 percent basic pay raise for troops next year and will go along with a Pentagon proposal to trim housing allowances in an effort to rein in personnel costs.

The moves, if adopted later this week, leave troops and families with a mixed message from lawmakers about how much belt tightening they’ll see next year.

On Tuesday, members of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee offered their $549.3 billion funding plan for military operations in fiscal 2015, including $59.7 billion for overseas contingency operations and $128.4 billion in personnel spending.

That’s about $300 million more than what House appropriators had set aside for personnel costs and about $400 million less than the White House had asked for. But the details indicate a more divided picture on how the changes will affect troops, one that lawmakers in both chambers will have to reconcile in coming months.

The Senate’s 1 percent raise proposal mirrors White House requests for a modest pay increase, a move that would save $3.8 billion over five years. Earlier this year, the Senate Armed Services Committee included the same capped pay raise in its draft of the annual defense authorization bill.

Senators said the move, while difficult, will help free up funds for other priorities without cutting too deeply into troops’ wallets.

But House appropriators in June funded a 1.8 percent pay raise, in line with increases in private-sector wages. The chamber also approved its draft of the defense authorization bill in May with language backing the 1.8 percent increase, although without any provisions to actually mandate the higher figure.

Pentagon officials have argued that lower pay raises are needed to keep costs in check and prevent personnel accounts from sapping money for readiness and modernization programs. Outside military advocates have argued that even the small pay difference will hurt military families already struggling to make ends meet.

Military officials also have lobbied to trim troops’ housing allowances, scaling back from covering 100 percent of average housing costs to 95 percent in coming years, with troops expected to cover that average 5 percent out of their own pockets. Senate appropriators backed that plan, again mirroring their Senate Armed Services Committee counterparts. But the House has twice rejected the idea.

Both House and Senate appropriators turned down Pentagon requests to cut annual commissary subsidies by $200 million and restructure the military health care system to cut costs. And both chambers have backed pay freezes for general and flag officers.

Senate appropriators also echoed House calls to delay any major military retirement reform until next spring, after the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission offers its recommendations on a host of military pay and benefits issues.

When either the defense appropriations or authorization measures will be finalized remains unclear. Leaders from both the House and Senate have said they hope to send the bills to the White House this summer, but only a few weeks remain before lawmakers leave for an extended break prior to this year’s mid-term elections.

If an appropriations measure is not finalized by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, lawmakers will need to pass a continuing budget resolution to keep the military operating past Oct. 1.

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