President Obama pauses Aug. 30 after answering questions about Syria from members of the media during his meeting with Baltic leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
In the midst of discussion about launching a U.S. military strike on Syria, President Obama moved Friday to reduce the size of January’s military raise.
Instead of the 1.8 percent raise due troops under a federal pay formula, Obama notified Congress he is exercising his powers as the government’s pay agent to cap the Jan. 1 increase at 1 percent.
The announcement came at 5 p.m. at the start of the Labor Day weekend after the news had been dominated for days about how the U.S. should respond to apparent use of chemical weapons against civilians by the government of Syria.
The pay decision is not unexpected and is not final, but it may diminish some support for a bigger military raise.
Obama’s 2014 defense budget sent to Congress in February included a 1 percent pay increase, a recommendation endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee but opposed by the House of Representatives. The defense authorization and appropriations bills approved by the House include the 1.8 percent across-the-board raise, the amount called for under the Federal Pay Comparability Act requiring raises to keep pace with private-sector wages.
Congress could override Obama’s pay order in whatever final defense legislation is passed for the year. However, doing so requires finding $580 million in 2014 and $3.5 billion over five years to make up the difference between the 1 percent and 1.8 percent raises. Lawmakers will try to find money to offset the raise at the same time Congress is wrestling with debt ceiling and spending decisions.
In a Friday letter to Congress notifying lawmakers of his pay decision, Obama said he is “strongly committed to supporting our uniformed service members, who have made such great contributions to our nation over the past decade of war.” However, he said the U.S. is recovering “from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare” requiring efforts to stay “on a sustainable fiscal course.”
Obama sent Congress a second letter, this one about the federal civilian pay raise. It also calls for a 1 percent increase in pay scales, a move that would end a three-year freeze, pleasing federal worker unions.
J. David Cox Sr., national president for the American Federation of Government Employees, said a small raise is better than nothing. “To call this raise inadequate is an understatement, but it is good news all the same.”
“Although the 1 percent is a pitiful amount that doesn’t begin to compensate for the furloughs and three years of frozen pay, it is a welcome development,” Cox said, who noted the raise would not extend to blue-collar federal workers.