A Senate panel on Tuesday backed a 1.6 percent raise for troops in 2017, setting up a military paycheck fight with House lawmakers who have labeled that increase too small.
The pay raise target was one of few details of the Senate Armed Services Committee's draft of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill to be released Tuesday. The full legislation is expected to be unveiled later this week.
But members of the committee's personnel panel held a public markup of some of the policy bill's provisions, including the pay raise and broad details of reorganization plans for military health care.
The 1.6 percent pay raise matches the White House's request for 2017 and translates into $30 to $60 more a month for most enlisted personnel, and $60 to $120 for most officers. It would be the highest wage hike for troops since 2013, but would continue a six-year streak of military pay increases below 2 percent.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Armed Services' personnel panel, has said in recent weeks that he believes the annual pay increase should be larger, but was not confident he could find the money needed to pay for it.
Under standard practice, the pay raise should equal the expected rise in private-sector wages for next year, estimated at 2.1 percent. But administration and Pentagon officials have pushed for lower raises in recent years as a way to pay for other training and modernization priorities.
Last month, House Armed Services Committee members voted to break that pattern, backing a full 2.1 percent pay raise next year. Officials argued the move would not only put more money into troops' pockets, but also show Congress' commitment to taking care of military families.
For an E-4 with three years of service, the gap between the two pay raise plans totals about $136 a year. For an E-7 with 10 years, it's almost $228.
Among officers, the lower pay raise plan would drop the annual earnings of an O-2 with two years of service by roughly $234 in 2017. An O-4 with 12 years would lose about $425.
The difference between the plans also totals about $330 million in defense spending next year alone. House Republicans paid for that by transferring more temporary war funds into the military's base budget, a move that Senate Republicans said they would not back.
House and Senate lawmakers will have to negotiate the pay raise differences as part of compromise legislation later this year. In recent years, the Senate's pay raise proposals have ended up being adopted by both chambers, despite opposition from House members.
The full authorization bill is expected to be finalized later this fall.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.