Troops could receive monthly bonuses to counter rising inflation costs under a proposal adopted by House lawmakers on Wednesday, but a separate plan to guarantee service members a $15-an-hour minimum wage was rejected by chamber appropriators.
The moves signal further congressional support for keeping the military pay raise at 4.6% for next year while lawmakers look for other ways to help boost military families finances amid increasing gas and grocery prices.
The bonuses were included in an amendment by the House Armed Services Committee’s annual authorization bill adding $37 billion to the president’s $773 billion defense spending proposal.
That total includes about $7.4 billion to counter inflation, with $1.4 billion for personnel issues like housing stipend boosts, commissary support, and the monthly bonuses proposal.
Under the plan, troops who receive less than $45,000 in basic pay would be eligible for monthly payouts of 2.4% of their salary. That would mean up to $90 extra each month for those service members.
The bonuses would only be available from January to December 2023. Senate lawmakers did not include the idea in their draft of the authorization bill, meaning it would have to survive negotiations between the two chambers before it could become law.
Military advocates in recent months have warned that even though the planned 4.6% pay raise would be the largest for troops in 20 years, it may not be enough to offset rising costs for troops and their families.
But thus far, House and Senate lawmakers have rejected calls for a higher pay raise, saying in part that it could create a massive disparity with other federal civilian employees unless their salaries are also pulled higher, a costly budget proposition.
In debate before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., for the second year in a row offered a proposal to require a base pay of $15 an hour — $31,200 a year — for all troops, arguing that target should be the minimum for any individual serving in the ranks.
Junior enlisted service members can make as little as $21,000 a year in basic pay, but that calculation does not include other stipends such as housing allowances, specialty pays and subsistence assistance.
Depending on where troops are stationed, the housing and food payouts combined can effectively double younger troops’ total military compensation.
Garcia’s measure would have boosted pay for about 23,000 troops, but it was defeated during the appropriations debate because of concerns about cost offsets and related accounting issues. He called that a disappointment.
“No service member should be asked to defend our country and struggle near or even below the poverty line,” he said in a statement. “If the government is paying for our servicemembers to live on food stamps, we may as well pay them through base pay on the front end instead.”
For junior enlisted troops, the planned 4.6% pay raise would mean about $1,300 more next year in take-home pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $2,500 more. For an O-4 with 12 years’ service, it’s more than $4,500 in extra pay.
House Armed Services Committee members also included in their authorization bill language requiring a study into current military pay policies, and whether they are keeping pace with both the private sector and families’ financial needs.
Lawmakers have said they are particularly concerned with junior enlisted pay and whether that is sufficient for military recruiting and retention goals.
The House and Senate are expected to pass their separate authorization bill drafts sometime next month, and work on negotiations for a compromise bill through the rest of the summer.
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.