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White House pushes for lower pay raise in 2015

Sep. 2, 2014 - 06:15PM   |  
President Obama formally notified Congress on Aug. 29 that he wants to cap next year's military basic pay raise at 1 percent, unless Congress comes up with an alternative mandate. (Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)
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The White House is moving ahead with plans for another slimmed-down pay raise for troops in 2015, and outside advocates still aren’t happy about it.

Late Friday, President Obama formally notified Congress that he wants to cap next year’s military basic pay raise at 1 percent, unless Congress comes up with an alternative mandate.

This is the second consecutive August that Obama has announced plans to offer service members a pay hike that would lag behind anticipated private-sector wage growth. The 2014 pay raise was 1 percent, as well. Those are the lowest basic pay raises since the dawn of the all-volunteer era in 1973.

The White House blamed ongoing budget constraints for the move, echoing arguments made by Pentagon budget planners throughout the spring in support of the move.

In a letter to Congress, Obama stated that he is still “strongly committed to supporting our uniformed service members” and said the lower pay raise “will not materially affect the federal government’s ability to attract and retain well-qualified members for the uniformed services.”

Congress still could override that plan and mandate a 1.8 percent pay raise next year, matching the anticipated rise in private-sector wages.

So far, House members have twice voted in support of a 1.8 percent hike, while Senate panels have twice backed the lower 1 percent figure. Reaching a compromise on the competing budget bills likely will take the rest of the year.

For an E-3 with three years of service, the difference in the two pay plans would be about $195 a year. For an E-7 with 10 years, it comes out to $356. For an O-5 with 12 years of service, the lower pay plan would drain about $667 in annual salary.

Veterans groups and outside military lobbyists are still hopeful that they can sway Congress to support the higher figure, even if it means adding $3.8 billion to the federal deficit over the next five years.

In a statement, the Military Officers Association of America insisted that shrinking pay raises will eventually hurt military recruiters’ ability to attract new personnel, and said military pay should not be victimized to cover other budget problems.

“We are still at war. We are engaged in operations in Afghanistan, Syria and again in Iraq,” MOAA president Norb Ryan said. “This is an extremely poor message to send to our men and women in uniform who are sacrificing the most for the remaining 99 percent of Americans.”

The White House announced plans for a 1 percent pay raise for federal civilian employees next year, matching their January 2014 salary hike. Federal workers’ base pay had been frozen for three years before that.

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