Negotiators agree on defense budget bill with 3.5% pay raise
WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators Tuesday agreed on a $459.6 billion Defense budget for fiscal 2008 which includes a 3.5 percent pay raise for all military personnel but no money for ongoing combat operations overseas.
Those funds will be included in separate legislation, and will likely come with caveats requiring a time line for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, according to Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
Both budget bills are expected to come before the House on Thursday, and the Senate next week.
In a meeting with reporters Tuesday, Murtha said the combat funding was stripped from the 2008 Defense appropriations bill because “we wanted to make sure to give the Senate something they could pass.”
The $459.6 billion total is a 9.5 percent increase from last fiscal year’s Defense budget but still about $3.5 billion under what Pentagon planners had requested.
Along with the pay raise, the appropriations bill includes $11.6 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, $980 million for Guard and Reserve equipment replacement, and $616 million for Army facility upgrades worldwide.
It also includes $2.6 billion for military family programs, new psychologists and counselors, and additional child-care services.
“We’re seeing hardship for families, kids not doing well in school, because of these deployments,” Murtha said. “We’re trying in this bill to take care of these folks.”
The 3.5 percent raise will mean about $45 more a month for the youngest enlisted troops, and nearly $80 more a month for an E-5 with 10 years experience.
White House and Pentagon officials had pressed for a 3.0 percent pay raise — a difference of about $6.50 a month for the youngest enlisted troops — but both the House and Senate backed the higher figure as a way to make military pay more closely mirror civilian pay.
If approved by both chambers and signed into law by the president, the pay raise would go into effect in January.
Last month, President Bush requested Congress approve an additional $196.4 billion in supplemental war funding to pay for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 12 months.
But Murtha said he doesn’t expect the bridge funds to be proposed by Congress to be that long or expensive, instead suggesting a four- or six-month war fund under $50 billion. He would not release further details on that proposal, but said he expected it would contain restrictions similar to those passed by the House previously.
“We have to take this step by step,” he said. “But it’s clear the public wants this war over with.”