WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers are touting a hefty pay raise for troops as one of the highlights of the $1.3 trillion omnibus budget plan they hope to pass this week.
But if the bill becomes law, troops won’t be seeing any more money in their paychecks next month. That’s because they already received the promised pay boost at the start of the year.
Starting in January, troops’ saw a 2.4 percent salary increase, their largest for military salaries since 2010 and only the second time since then that the raise has topped 2 percent.
The increase matches federal projections for the growth in civilian wages for 2018, and was approved by lawmakers in November 2017 as part of their annual defense authorization bill.
But, because the appropriations process for fiscal 2018 has dragged on for nearly six months, Congress has continued to use the pay bump as a selling point for various spending bills, including the final fiscal year’s proposal being voted on this week.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, took to Twitter to implore colleagues to support the multi-agency spending plan because “Our men and women in uniform deserve a pay raise.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, echoed that idea.
Similarly, the White House voiced support for the budget bill in part because it included “the largest pay raise for troops in decade” and increased funding for the military.
Since last October, government funding has been authorized based on a series of short-term spending extensions of last year’s federal budget. The current measure expires on midnight Friday.
Pentagon officials began paying for the 2018 raise with available personnel account monies, but have warned that without a full-year budget, those funds would disappear sometime this spring.
If the omnibus measure becomes law this week, that problem disappears and military accounts receive their full-year funding totals. If it doesn’t pass, and another short-term spending measure isn’t adopted, it will trigger another partial government shutdown, the third since the start of 2018.
But either way, the military pay raise is already law, and will continue at the same level as last month. Recent political rhetoric about the omnibus budget’s pay raise provisions won’t change that.
Civilian federal workers see only a 1.9 percent pay boost under the budget measure.
White House officials have proposed a 2.6 percent pay raise for next year, which would also match the expected rise in civilian wages for 2019 and just barely top this year’s increase. Lawmakers will spend the next six months debating that plan as part of the country’s larger defense spending goals.
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.