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Mideast edition, Friday, May 11, 2007

WASHINGTON — Members of the House want to give troops a bigger-than-expected raise not just next year but the four years after that, too.

Tucked into the House Armed Services Committee’s 2008 defense authorization bill is language guaranteeing a 3.5 percent pay raise for all servicemembers starting next January and a promise of raises through 2012 of 0.5 percent above the anticipated average salary increase among civilian workers.

Lawmakers said the goal of the pay raises is to help close the gap between private sector pay and military pay. Defense officials had asked for a 3.0 percent pay raise in 2008, and have offered no long-term plans for pay beyond then.

Currently, analysts estimate that servicemembers make 3.9 percent less than comparable civilian personnel. Approving not only the higher 2008 pay raise but also the above-civilian-pay increases for the four years after that would drop the gap to 1.4 percent.

The $645.6 billion authorization legislation, passed unanimously by the committee Wednesday night, also includes a provision to double maximum hardship duty pay from $750 to $1,500 a month.

The budget proposal is expected to be voted on by the full House before the end of the month.

Along with nearly $504 billion in base funding for the defense department, the bill includes almost $142 billion in funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year. Lawmakers added more than $22 billion to the Defense Department’s base budget request to pay for what they saw as unmet needs within the services.

Their plans include a $4.1 billion boost in funding to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, $3.7 billion to get additional armored vehicles, and $1.2 billion in research for better body armor systems.

To offset some of those increases, the House proposal cut $867 million from the Army’s Future Combat Systems program $3.7 billion request for next year. Republicans on the committee tried to restore about $200 million of that restored during debate Wednesday, but the Democratic majority rejected that plan.

Senate officials are expected to begin deliberations on their version of the 2008 defense budget later this month. Last year, the Senate rejected House plans for a pay raise above the department’s request, and troops saw only a 2.2 percent increase in their checks, their lowest raise in a decade.

What the difference would be for you ...

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