WASHINGTON — Military personnel would receive a 2.1 percent pay raise in January — less than the projected rise in private sector wages — as part of the Trump administration's otherwise ambitious plans to recapitalize the armed forces, according to budget documents released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.
A 2.1 percent pay raise would match the increase service members received this year, roughly translating to about $50 more per month for many junior enlisted troops and another $115 for younger officers. Private sector wages are expected to grow by a rate of 2.4 percent, the spending plan notes, an indication that, like his predecessor in the White House, President Donald Trump is poised to pay for military modernization by eating into the Defense Department's personnel accounts.
PAY CHART: Every rate for every rank
The Defense Department's civilian employees stand to see a 1.9 percent pay bump.
"The goal here," Defense Department Comptroller John P. Roth said during an overview of the military's spending plan, "is to maintain the health of the force through a competitive compensation package that reflects the unique demands and sacrifices of our service members."
Overall, the administration's $603 billion defense spending request for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, seeks an infusion of cash to further address the shortfalls that have sidelined warships and aircraft. It also calls for investing substantially in a variety of new weaponry and nuclear modernization.
Notably, the Trump budget request also seeks a boost of about 4,000 sailors for the Navy and another 4,000 airmen for the Air Force. Army and Marine Corps personnel numbers would remain steady at 2017 levels.
Those moves would result in an active-duty force of around 1.3 million service members, about 56,000 more than what Pentagon officials had planned just a few years ago.
The Navy Reserve would add 1,000 more personnel, the Air National Guard would add 900 more people and the Marine Corps Reserve would grow by 800.
The White House budget proposal also calls for a new base-closure round in fiscal 2021.
Congressional Republicans have said they hope to pack on another $37 billion to Trump's defense spending request, saying the administration's plan is insufficient given the military's perceived state of decline and the many national security challenges it faces. On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain called Trump's plan"dead on arrival" in Congress.
It's not immediately clear whether lawmakers will seek to boost spending on military pay, as they did last year, though some have signaled support for providing a raise that tracks with the expected rise in average private sector wages.
In a written statement, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, president and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America, signaled the advocacy group's disappointment with Trump's proposed pay raise. Seven of the past eight have been below private-sector wage growth, he noted, a trend that, should it continue, could jeopardize the military's ability to retain a top-tier workforce.
"As we enter our seventeenth year of continued conflict, putting America’s men and women in danger in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the Korean peninsula and elsewhere around the globe, we should be providing more reasons for people to remain in service, not giving them reasons to leave," Atkins's statement reads.
The Pentagon has been focused for years on reducing in its personnel costs, which officials have characterized as threatening the military's ability to modernize and maintain an advantage over its adversaries. The 2018 defense budget proposal reflects a $600 million funding decrease for pay and benefits overall, according to budget documents. Long-term projections envision $7.1 billion in personnel savings through 2022.
Speaking Tuesday, Roth referred to the budget's proposed compensation adjustments as "relatively modest" compared to recent years, which brought a new military retirement system along with changes to troops' monthly housing allowance.
For instance, in 2018, officials want to tweak pharmacy co-pays so more troops and their families are compelled to choose less expensive mail-order services for prescription medications. That could save $400 million next year, according to the Pentagon. There are plans also to expand the use of tele-health services, which enable patients to be diagnosed over the phone as opposed to visiting a doctor's office, thus drive down costs.
By contrast, officials are seeking to improve upon the Pentagon's new blended retirement plan by offering matching contributions to enlisted personnel who serve beyond 26 years.
The administration's budget proposal faces a long legislative road before becoming law. Much of Trump's short- and long-term spending plans hinge on replacing current federal spending caps with new ones that dramatically increase defense funding and cut non-military programs.
Democrats have vowed to block those proposals, saying the military buildup can't come at the expense of other critical domestic safety-net programs.