A last-minute bid by House Republicans to dramatically boost next year’s planned military pay raise to 4 percent and add nearly $1 billion in military personnel spending failed amid partisan fighting over the annual defense authorization bill.
The White House and Pentagon leaders have pushed for a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops next year, the largest for the armed services in a decade. Both House and Senate lawmakers have already backed that figure.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited the 3.1 percent increase as evidence of his administration’s commitment to taking care of servicemembers. The 3.1 percent figure matches the long-established federal formula for keeping military pay in line with the gradual increase in private sector wages.
But on Friday, ahead of his chamber’s final vote on the annual defense authorization bill, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, pushed for an even larger raise “to help with recruitment and send a message to our troops that we value them.”
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. and a Navy reservist, said opposition to the 4-percent plan amounted to discounting the service and sacrifices of troops.
“Will my colleagues on the other side of the aisle really vote against a well-earned pay raise for our troops?” he said. “Our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen, our Marines, they deserve better.”
But Democratic leadership blasted the move as little more than political gamesmanship by Republicans worried they could be accused of not supporting military members and families when they voted against the 3.1 percent raise in the full authorization bill.
“This body has raised pay for our troops every single year and, we have the largest pay raise in 10 years in this bill for our troops,” said armed services committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash.
“It's easy to say, well, I'm going to vote no and therefore it's partisan. There's no good reason for it. This should be a bipartisan bill. It supports our troops, it supports our national security.”
Democrats also noted that Republicans didn’t push for the larger pay raise until the last moment before bill passage, after several months of bipartisan negotiations over the measure.
But Thornberry said the additional pay raise, along with restoring other personnel and readiness funding cut by Democrats from the White House’s budget request, would have made the overall defense budget bill more palatable to Republican members worried it falls short of military needs.
No Republicans voted for the final $733 billion authorization bill, even though the measure typically draws bipartisan support. With the House authorization bill passage on Friday, that 3.1 percent pay raise mark is nearly guaranteed to become law next year.
For junior enlisted troops, a 3.1 percent pay raise means about $815 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,500 more. An O-4 with 12 years service would see more than $2,800 extra next year under the increase.
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.