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The Defense Department is making a final plea to Congress to cap the 2014 military pay raise at 1 percent.
With the House Armed Services Committee scheduled to start drafting its version of the 2014 defense policy bill next week, defense officials are asking lawmakers to end a 21-year string of providing military raises that have matched or exceeded private-sector wage growth.
“We are at a strategic turning point and the defense budget is a reflection of the changes in defense strategy announced by the President,” defense officials say in a letter transmitting details of its 2014 budget to Congress. “There were hard choices that had to be made in every budget category, including military compensation.
“A 1.0 percent raise helps DoD maintain the balance of competitive pay with our responsibility to be accountable for costs to the American taxpayers,” the defense statement says.
The 1 percent increase in basic pay and drill pay proposed by the Obama administration for 2014 would be less than the 1.8 percent increase that would be required to keep pace with the private sector. It would also be the smallest annual military pay raise in more than half a century.
The smaller raise, affecting 2.2 million active and reserve members, would reduce the 2014 defense budget by $536 million — a small cut in a $526.6 billion budget, but significant savings of $3.5 billion over five years, according to Defense Department estimates.
The DoD statement was sent to Congress on April 26 but not made public until May 14, when Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, introduced the military’s request as draft legislation. This bill, HR 1960, will be amended as McKeon’s committee works on the 2014 defense budget.
The 1 percent military raise happens only if Congress goes along with DoD’s plan. Absent legislation, federal pay law would automatically provide a 1.8 percent increase effective Jan. 1. However, if lawmakers want to provide the slightly larger raise, they’ll have to find the $536 million to cover the increased cost in the 2014 budget.
That could be a problem because the armed services committee also must find $900 million to offset savings that the Pentagon budget request assumes would result from proposed increases in Tricare and pharmacy fees, which lawmakers also would like to block.
In making the case for the smaller raise, defense officials said that if they cannot cut payroll costs, something else will have to be cut in the military budget. “Reductions in forces, training, and modernization alone will degrade our nation’s military capabilities beyond an acceptable level of risk; therefore, it is necessary to slow the growth in military pay and benefits,” the statement said.
Defense officials said a smaller raise in 2014 would not result in underpaid service members.
“In terms of real earnings, the average junior enlisted member, typically with just a high school degree, earns approximately $45,000 per year compared to the median of $23,900 for 16- to 24-year-olds reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” defense officials said.
Military salaries are even bigger if the many special pays and bonuses, free medical care and government-paid retirement plan are included, the statement says.