1.9 percent military pay raise likely in 2011
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are poised to give servicemembers an extra boost in pay next year despite objections from the Defense Department over the long-term cost of the raise.
On Wednesday, the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee announced plans for a 1.9 percent pay raise next January, 0.5 percent above the target set by Pentagon planners in January. Defense officials had asked for a 1.4 percent raise based on anticipated private sector raises for 2011.
But Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said the extra money is needed to help close the ongoing gap between civilian paychecks and military wages. Congress has approved higher-than-civilian pay increases each of the last 12 years.
Lawmakers have said repeatedly that the additional pay raise is also needed to reward servicemembers and their families for the sacrifices during nine years of war and because of the strain placed on the force.
“I would challenge anyone to find a civilian job that has the same set of requirements and risks as those experienced by our military personnel,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. “For me, the assertion that personnel costs are crowding out the ability to fund other defense priorities should not be solved by asking military personnel to take less.”
Even with the extra boost, a 1.9 percent pay raise in 2011 would be the lowest since the start of the all-volunteer military in 1973. In 1988, Congress approved a 2.0 percent raise for servicemembers. This year, troops received a 3.4 percent bump in their pay.
The Senate has not yet weighed in, but in recent years has sided with the House in granting an adding another 0.5 percent to troops' paychecks. Last month, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., head of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, promised a closer look at personnel costs but indicated he would still back a slightly higher than requested pay raise.
Last weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates mentioned the higher pay raises during a speech on fiscal responsibility, noting that “given America’s difficult economic circumstances and parlous fiscal condition, military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny.”
Defense officials estimate that an extra 0.5 percent increase will cost the department another $350 million in fiscal 2011 alone, and $3.5 billion over the next decade. Those figures don’t include higher retirement pay, pushing the expense even higher.
In testimony before the Senate last month, RAND national security research division director James Hosek said new research indicates that targeted specialty pays — bonuses for medical professionals, for example — would be less costly and more effective for keeping highly-skilled troops in the ranks.
William Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, also argued that the pay gap between the military and private sector is overstated, especially once housing stipends and other military benefits are factored in.
If approved, the 1.4 percent pay raise would mean about $32 more a month for an E-4 with six years in the service, and about $41 for an E-5 with more than 10 years. A 1.9 percent pay raise would add another $11 or $14, respectively.
The full House committee is expected to vote on the pay raise next week. The Senate will offer its proposal next week, and the final compromise version of the measure is expected to be approved by October.