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The Senate’s top military personnel lawmaker blasted next year’s service member pay raise and the proposed changes to military retirement as “shortchanging” troops instead of rewarding their sacrifice.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who chairs the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, stopped short of promising a pay hike larger than the 1.6 percent planned for troops in 2017, but did hint that his panel will look for ways to change that figure.

“The department’s proposal that would continue to suppress military pay raises misses the mark,” he said during a hearing Tuesday. “For the last three years, this administration has failed to allow service members’ pay to keep up with private-sector wage growth. This is the fourth year in a row where the department is shortchanging service members.”

Graham’s comments mirror those made last month by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and stand in opposition to Pentagon comments that the pay raise should be recognized for being the largest for the force in four years.

This year's pay raise was 1.3 percent. If approved, the 1.6 percent pay hike in 2017 will mark the fourth consecutive year that military salary increases fail to keep pace with private-sector wage growth.

At the hearing, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. William Moran said the smaller pay raise is needed to “achieve a proper balance of compensating the force with costs for training and equipping them.” He also added that the change is not expected to hurt recruiting and retention.

But lawmakers have questioned that, and Graham also criticized Pentagon proposals to make changes to the military retirement overhaul passed just last year.

That new plan allows troops who serve at least two years to leave the service with a 401(k)-style retirement account. Defense officials have pushed to move that vesting date further into troops’ military careers.

Graham soundly rejected that.

“It was an intentional choice by the committee to set eligibility at two years and one day of service,” he said.

“The department came over last year and asked us to modify that, pushing eligibility further into a service member's career. We unanimously rejected that, and will continue to do reject requests from the Department of Defense that would delay government contributions. We believe the new retirement system should benefit more service members.”

House and Senate lawmakers are expected to unveil their drafts of the annual defense authorization bill in coming weeks.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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