WASHINGTON — White House officials offered strong objections to portions of the Senate’s proposed defense authorization bill in advance of floor debate next week, including protections to the military pay raise and plans to cut back on housing stipends for some military families.
The move, typical for major pieces of legislation, adds another layer of complexity to the authorization bill work, already weeks behind schedule. The $692 billion measure includes policy and spending priorities for both basic military operations in fiscal 2018 and overseas contingency operations.
In a statement of administration policy, White House officials praised the measure’s “substantial reforms to Department of Defense management and business practices” but also listed numerous concerns, including its prohibition on another base closing round. Military officials insist they could $2 billion annually by closing underused bases, but lawmakers have staunchly opposed the idea in recent years.
It also includes language backed by Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., which would block the president from citing “economic concerns” as a reason to decouple the military pay raise from the Employment Cost Index, which estimates private sector wage growth.
Senators have argued the move unfairly drops troops’ pay raises, but White House officials argued it is overly restrictive.
“Being able to adjust military compensation nimbly in response to serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare is not only essential to … recruit and retain a ready and capable uniformed services,” the statement reads, “but it is also required to balance military compensation costs against other investments critical to readiness, equipment, and modernization.”
The Senate bill calls for a 2.1 percent pay raise this year, the same level President Donald Trump has requested. It’s below the 2.4 percent raise mandated under federal rules (and included in the House version of the authorization bill), and White House officials have cited those emergency powers in seeking the lower number.
The administration also raised objections to Senate plans to reduce housing stipends for dual military families. Under the measure as written, families eligible for two housing payouts would stop receiving any “with dependents” stipend boosts.
The move would save save up to $52 million annually, and close to $300 million over the next five years. But it would cost some military families several hundred dollars and month, and has drawn opposition from the Pentagon.
White House officials said the idea “would inappropriately penalize military families” and “send a clear message that their service is not valued as highly.”
The White House statement also voices concerns with bill provisions that would limit flexibilities to some military aviation bonuses and new rules that would allow service academy graduates to delay or forgo active-duty responsibilities to accept jobs as professional athletes.
The Senate is expected to begin debate on the measure on Monday. Once the chamber passes its version, it will have to be reconciled with the House draft in coming months before heading to the president to be signed into law.