Lawmakers ready to pass defense bill authorizing 1.6 percent pay hike
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 13, 2011
WASHINGTON — Troops will see a 1.6 percent pay increase next month and the military will receive more than $115 billion for overseas contingency operations under a defense budget agreement worked out by lawmakers on Monday.
Both chambers are expected to approve the measure later this week. If signed into law, the measure would also make the head of the National Guard Bureau a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide new protections for sexual assault victims and order an overhaul of operations at Arlington National Cemetery.
However, the measure still faces a veto threat from President Barack Obama over issues regarding the detention of captured terrorism suspects. The draft defense authorization bill would require that the military take custody of suspects who are members of al-Qaida or its affiliates, or those plotting attacks in the United States.
In an effort to ease White House concerns over the language, lawmakers specified that those rules do not apply to U.S. citizens and will not interfere with investigations by the FBI or other domestic law enforcement groups. White House officials had no comment on the new language.
The draft measure calls for a $552 billion base budget for the Pentagon in fiscal 2012, $24 billion less than what the president and Defense Department requested last spring and $19 billion less than what lawmakers approved in last fiscal year’s authorization bill.
Conference committee members said that’s part of an early down payment on billions of defense savings ordered under budget-cutting plans approved by Congress earlier this year.
The 1.6 percent pay raise for troops is up slightly from 2011’s 1.4 percent increase, but it’s only about half of the average pay boost troops had received over the last decade. If approved, the increase would mean about $40 more a month for an E-4 with six years’ service and about $90 for an O-4 with six years.
The draft measure also prohibits any pharmacy co-pay changes for 2012, and limits any Tricare Prime enrollment fees to the percentage increase in retired pay.
It also for the first time elevates National Guard leadership to the Joint Chiefs level, a move the Pentagon has resisted for years. Military officials argued the Guard was sufficiently represented in leadership ranks, but lawmakers said the new roles and responsibilities of the Guard warrant a voice in budgeting and strategic matters.
The measure includes new legal counsel for sexual assault victims and a guarantee that unit transfer requests by accusers will be considered within 72 hours, both provisions supported by advocacy groups.
Lawmakers also approved new sanctions on financial institutions that do business with Iran and froze $700 million in military assistance to Pakistan.
The bill also calls for the creation of an overseas bases panel to look at possible cost-savings “ahead of an anticipated reduction of America’s global posture.” Lawmakers said they also reduced military construction requests by $1.7 billion and did not fully fund flight hours for the services in an effort to trim costs.