WASHINGTON — Congress is ready to give troops their biggest pay raise in nine years next January, a move that will mean almost $700 more annually for even the most junior service members.
On Tuesday, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel advanced their section of the annual defense authorization bill, which includes a 2.6 percent pay raise and a host of other military specialty pay renewals for 2019.
The move comes less than two weeks after House lawmakers approved the same pay raise in their draft of the massive budget policy measure.
Although the final bill still faces months of negotiations between House and Senate leaders, the identical pay raises signal that troops’ paychecks won’t be a significant stumbling point in that work. It also matches the White House request for military pay, unveiled back in February.
While appropriators still must allot the funding for troops’ salaries, the defense authorization bill represents Congress’ best opportunity to override the president’s pay raise target. In the last two years, lawmakers went beyond the president’s pay request to provide for a slightly bigger bump.
The proposed 2019 is the largest since 2010, and 0.3 percent above last year’s increase.
For junior enlisted troops, it amounts to about $670 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,300 more. For an O-4 with 12 years service, it’s more than $2,300 extra next year.
The 2.6 percent mark matches the federal formula for military pay, designed to keep troops’ wages on par with their civilian peers. However, Pentagon planners in recent years have advocated for trims in those raises to help pay for other recapitalization and modernization priorities.
The full Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to finish debate on its draft of the authorization bill later this week, and the full Senate is expected to vote on the proposal later this summer. House lawmakers will vote on their draft later this week.
Lawmakers have managed to pass into law some version of the defense policy measure for the last 57 years, making it arguably the most successful and bipartisan annual legislative effort in Congress.
Personnel subcommittee Chairman Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., declined to give details of much of the panel’s draft, but said the spending levels mirror the $717 billion plan outlined by the White House.
Panel ranking member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the measure includes a provision to make domestic violence a crime under the uniform code of military justice — an idea also included in the House bill — and another allowing military courts to issue protective orders to ensure the safety of military members and their families.
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.