WASHINGTON — Senate lawmakers on Thursday backed a higher-than-requested 3.9 percent pay raise for all military personnel in their first draft of the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill.

Lawmakers said the 3.9 percent pay raise, 0.5 percent above what defense officials requested, is designed to further close the gap between military and civilian pay.

If passed, the pay raise would be the highest for troops since 2004.

For an E-4 with four years military service, the Senate plan would mean an increase of $79.86 a month, about $10 more than the Pentagon plan. For an O-4 with four years, it would be $189.25 a month, about $24 more monthly.

The proposal released by the Senate Armed Service Committee has a $542.5 billion base budget, $27 billion above what Pentagon planners requested for fiscal 2009. It also contains an additional $70 billion in bridge funds to continue combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan past October.

Along with funding for ships and aircraft, the legislation contains a number of policy priorities for 2009, including the creation of new suicide prevention programs, increasing the maximum re-enlistment contract from six to eight years, and allowing 21 days of paternity leave for new fathers.

The bill also reauthorizes 25 bonuses and specialty pays used for recruiting and retention, and adds new incentives to entice medical professionals into the ranks.

Senators also included a provision to provide a 500-pound weight allowance during permanent change of station moves for military spouses’ professional books and equipment, and language providing travel money to reservists called to active duty who get stuck away from home over holidays.

Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he hopes the bill will come up for vote before the full Senate by Memorial Day. The House Armed Services Committee will begin its mark-up of the authorization bill next week.

Both the House and Senate must pass their separate versions of the budget bill before sending a compromise measure to the president later this year.

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