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Could a pay freeze for U.S. troops be coming?

WASHINGTON – The White House is stressing that servicemembers would not fall under President Barack Obama’s proposed two-year pay freeze for federal employees, but an administration official was evasive Monday when asked whether a pay freeze for troops might be next.

Earlier this month, the co-chairs of the president’s panel on reducing the deficit recommended freezing basic military pay and housing allowances for three years. The panel’s final report is expected later this week.

Obama announced on Monday that he was calling for a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal employees, including those who work for the Defense Department, to help bring the deficit under control.

“I want to be clear: This freeze does not apply to the men and women of our armed forces, who along with their families continue to bear enormous burdens with our nation at war,” Obama said in brief remarks at the White House.

The president has called for a 1.4 percent pay raise for troops next year, Jeffrey Zients, of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters on Monday afternoon. But Zients did not answer directly when asked whether the White House was also considering a separate pay freeze for troops, as recommended by the co-chairs of the deficit panel.

“This freeze does not apply to the military,” Zients said before taking another question.

Zients was later pressed by a reporter who asked whether a freeze in military pay was off the table.

“The president will work with [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] and ultimately with the Congress to set an appropriate military pay increase consistent with the burdens of the military and what we’re asking of our folks in uniform,” he said.

The House of Representatives and the Senate differ on how much of a pay raise troops should get next year. If lawmakers do not pass a defense spending bill by the end of the year, military pay will remain flat until the next Congress takes action.

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