White House officials have asked for service members to get their largest pay raise in 20 years as part of the fiscal 2023 budget request.
But a growing number of lawmakers think that number still isn’t high enough.
“It’s inadequate,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “We’re living with 8% inflation and they’re talking about a 4.6% pay raise? That’s not adequate.”
As lawmakers look at edits and additions to the fiscal 2023 budget request in coming weeks, the military pay raise is likely to be tied to conversations about increasing the defense budget well above the $773 billion total offered in the initial draft.
In early April, in testimony before Congress, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin touted the pay raise — which would be the largest for troops since 2003 — as a way to provide military families with the resources they need to thrive.
But Republican lawmakers attacked the proposed 4% increase in overall defense spending as too small to account for rising inflation costs and persistent national security threats across the globe. They want to see an increase of 5% above inflation, somewhere in the range of a 12% or 13% increase.
And at least some of that extra money would go to increasing military pay too, members of Congress told Military Times.
Rogers said he can’t point to a specific number yet, but sees the proposed 4.6% raise as too small. Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, agreed.
“That [pay raise target] needs to come up higher, because it still ends up as a reduction for service members,” he said. “It’s below inflation. But the number still needs to be determined. It’s a matter of what we can do.”
The military pay raise typically is tied to the employment cost index, a quarterly measure of civilian-sector wages. As such, the annual calculator trails actual salary data by more than a year by the time lawmakers finalize their military spending plans.
But Congress does not have any specific trigger to boost military pay in times of high inflation or increased needs among personnel, other than just simply picking a higher raise figure and approving that.
Rogers said publicly in fall 2021 he remains concerned about military pay issues, particularly among lower-paid enlisted troops.
His staff has been working in recent months to “look at taking two or three years to get us up to a more competitive compensation package for everyone.”
Several lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee echoed that idea during Austin’s appearance before the panel.
“I very much appreciate the pay increases for our service members in the budget, but as has been mentioned many times over, the pay increase does not actually cover the current cost of inflation,” Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma, said to Austin. “That’s essentially a pay cut for our service members and their families.”
Several Democratic members on both the House and Senate panels also expressed concerns about the budget increases not being enough, although leaders said it is too early to say if the pay raise will have to be boosted higher.
The proposed 4.6% pay raise — which would go into effect in January 2023 — is well above the 2.7% raise troops saw at the start of 2022. For junior enlisted troops, it would mean about $1,300 more in their annual salary.
For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $2,500 more. An O-4 with 12 years service would see more than $4,500 extra next year under a 4.6% increase.
Troops have seen a pay raise annually since the 1970s. But advocates have noted that in some years — most recently in the mid-2010s — those raises have not kept up with private-sector compensation, creating a gap between troops and their civilian peers in salaries.
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.