WASHINGTON — Senators on Tuesday backed the Pentagon’s proposed cap on military pay raises for next year in an early subcommittee draft of its annual defense spending bill.
The $549-billion legislation drafted by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense backs proposals by the Obama administration and the Pentagon to cut long-term personnel costs beginning with a 1 percent cap.
But it remains early in the game for the Senate defense spending bill and changes are likely. The House has already voted to keep the standard 1.8 percent cap on raises next year and there is similar support in the Senate at large.
A summary of the subcommittee bill released Tuesday shows a $489.6 billion base budget with $59.7 billion for supplemental war funding. On Thursday, the proposal will go to the full Senate Appropriations Committee for debate and amendments.
The Senate appropriations bill is the last piece of the 2015 military budget needed for Congress to craft a final plan for defense priorities and spending. The chamber has already passed a defense authorization bill and the House passed both an authorization bill and appropriations bill earlier this summer.
Along with the pay cap, the subcommittee also bucked Pentagon wishes by blocking $200 million in cuts to military base supermarkets and providing money to save the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II, nicknamed the Warthog, from retirement, as the Air Force wants. The aircraft has won wide support from the rest of Congress and is likely to survive the budget ax.
“I think the A-10 is a great aircraft. There are those who disagree in the Pentagon,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the defense appropriation subcommittee. “I will tell you in the Senate support among members is very strong.”
The draft pumps money into other military hardware, including $1.3 billion for the E/A-18G Growler aircraft, $120 million for Abrams tanks, and an additional $5.9 billion for defense research and development.
Durbin said the funding maintains key military assets and preserves the U.S. military industrial base and its expertise in defense manufacturing.
Meanwhile, without significant increases in money for DARPA and other innovative programs, Durbin said the United States could lose its edge over China, which dedicates a larger piece of its defense budget to military technology.
Also, the subcommittee has proposed eliminating federal subsidies on tobacco products sold on military bases, which Durbin said can cut the costs of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco by up to 25 percent for servicemembers despite the known health risks.
The budget for $25 million in funding for special victims counseling in military sexual assault cases would — a three-fold increase from 2012, according to the Senate.
Under the bill, the U.S. would also double down on its funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense shield as tensions increase with the Palestinians.
Durbin said rockets being launched from the Gaza are not causing harm due to the shield built with U.S. assistance.
“It works,” he said, “and we are dramatically increasing our investment in Iron Dome and Israeli missile defense.”