Congress signals higher pay raise for troops
WASHINGTON — Congress sent strong messages through two votes Thursday that it plans to give troops a higher pay raise in the coming year, but lawmakers are still divided on just how much.
The full House approved a 2.3 percent raise as part of its annual defense spending bill. Meanwhile, a Senate committee approved a 1.3 percent increase in its version of the legislation, which still faces debate on the chamber floor.
Personnel costs have become a battleground as Congress, the Pentagon and White House look for ways to reduce defense spending and federal debt. Troops have seen their raises capped at 1 percent over the past two years.
“We cannot risk having an underfunded military during these uncertain times, and our troops deserve unfailing support as they lay their lives on the line,” Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a release.
The House 2.3 percent raise, passed 278-149 in its massive defense appropriations bill, is above the White House’s proposal earlier this year for a modest increase to 1.3 percent.
The bill also rejects cuts to military housing allowances and commissaries.
Earlier this week, the Obama administration threatened to veto the House appropriations bill. The Office of Management and Budget wrote that “it is imperative to slow the growth of basic pay and housing allowances, modernize military healthcare, and reform how commissaries operate.”
The Pentagon has urged the cuts as well, saying ballooning costs for personnel and benefits are squeezing its readiness.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday agreed with the White House proposal on troop pay increases. It passed a draft version of the annual defense spending bill that included the 1.3 percent raise.
But senators also balked at cuts to commissaries.
The committee approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., reversing $322 million in cuts to the worldwide chain of base grocery stores.
“At a time when thousands of military families depend on food stamps, it’s wrong to reduce access to commissaries or increase costs at the checkout line. These families face enough stress,” Mikulski said in a release.
The Senate will likely have a floor vote on the bill in the coming weeks, and the raise and changes to benefits will be up for debate again. The House and Senate appropriations bills must be merged into a final plan for funding the Defense Department.