WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s visit to Iraq this week brought with it another round of controversy surrounding White House claims about military pay, as the commander in chief again incorrectly claimed he provided the troops with their first raise in more than a decade.
“You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years. More than 10 years!” he told a crowd of applauding service members during his remarks at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Wednesday. “And we got you a big one. I got you a big one.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed that troops hadn’t seen a pay raise during President Barack Obama’s time in the White House. In fact, troops have seen a pay raise of at least 1 percent every year for more than 30 years.
The president also appeared to claim he pushed for a 10 percent pay raise in 2019, even though the actual rate his administration publicly supported and eventually got approved was only 2.6 percent.
“[People said] we could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent," he told the troops. “I said, ‘No, make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’ Because it’s been a long time. It’s been more than 10 years. That’s a long time.”
The 2018 military pay raise, approved in Trump’s first year in office, was 2.4 percent. It was the largest the military had seen in eight years, but followed a federal formula matching the expected rise in civilian sector wages for the year.
In some cases over the last 10 years, the annual military pay hikes have been lower than those comparable salaries, leading to a gap in the wages of troops and their non-military peers. But military pay has increased annually every year dating back to the early days of President Ronald Reagan’s administration.
Trump also claimed he had to fight for the higher pay raises, despite the fact that they passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
“They had plenty of people that came up, they said, ‘You know, we could make [the military raise] smaller,’” he said.
Trump’s initial pay raise proposal for 2018 was only 2.1 percent, which would have matched the final pay raise passed during the Obama administration. Lawmakers overrode that proposal by Trump, approving the higher 2.4 percent mark.
For junior enlisted troops, this year’s 2.6 percent pay increase amounts to about $670 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,300 more. For an O-4 with 12 years service, it’s more than $2,300 extra next year.
Trump told the deployed troops that their increased salaries were well deserved. He noted that the fiscal 2019 defense budget totals $716 billion, a significant increase over the previous year, and promised that in fiscal 2020 the figure will go “even a little bit higher.”
Just two months ago, Trump proposed trimming the defense budget back to $700 billion in fiscal 2020 before military and congressional leaders lobbied him to aim higher in his budget negotiations.
“We can’t play cheap with our warriors or military,” Trump told the crowd. “We can’t play cheap with victory. And we’re not going to.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.