Active duty and reserve component members can bank on a 3.9 percent pay raise next January as Congress continues to close a perceived military "pay gap" that a Pentagon pay study says no longer exists.

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday joined Senate colleagues in approving, for a 10th consecutive year, a military pay increase that will exceed private sector wage growth by a half of a percentage point.

The House committee surpassed Senate colleagues on this issue, too, accepting an amendment from Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Va., to extend the string of above-average military raises through 2013. Even if the full House agrees, this change still would need to win Senate approval to become law.

Ignored by both committees in shaping the 2009 military pay raise was a conclusion made two months ago by the 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation that a military pay gap no longer exists if hefty increases in tax-free housing allowances over the last decade are counted.

But in an election year, with 150,000 U.S. troops still rotating through the unpopular Iraq war, lawmakers choose to ignore the findings of the 10th QRMC. One committee staff member called the report "persuasive" in describing how a large pay gap identified in 1999 not only has been closed but, when total compensation is considered, military pay might now exceed average wages for civilians of comparable age and education by 6.5 percent.

But this same staff member said he never heard the QRMC report even discussed by committee members since its release.

"We’re in wartime, we’re stressing our troops and [lawmakers] are going to take every opportunity to show their appreciation," he said.

Across the Capitol, in the other Armed Services Committee, a staff member said his bosses aren’t "ignorant" of the QRMC perspective. But for now they will continue to compare growth in basic pay that of private sector wages, ignoring gains over the years in housing allowances.

"Is it a perfect measure? Slap my forehead, ‘No.’ … But their measure isn’t perfect either," he said. "What we’re trying to do here is grasp relative comparability between two very diverse and different systems."

"The civilian world lives within their culture; we live within a military culture. The military culture is you get your housing," this committee staffer said, whether that housing is provided at no charge on base or through provision of tax-free allowances to be able to rent housing off base.

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