The U.S. Capitol seen through a window of the House Canon building.

The U.S. Capitol seen through a window of the House Canon building. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — The House on Friday approved $825 billion in defense spending for the remainder of fiscal 2024 that funds pay increases for troops and compels the Pentagon to address the military’s recruiting crisis.

The 286-134 vote for the legislation, which is part of a $1.2 trillion package to fund the federal government through September, came as lawmakers raced to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight. Funding could briefly lapse over the weekend as the Senate takes up the bill but it is not expected to cause any major disruptions, including to service members’ pay.

House lawmakers rushed to pass the legislation after months of stopgap funding measures that kept the Pentagon’s spending frozen in place since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. The bill provides a $27 billion funding increase to the Defense Department from last year.

“Today is zero hour. We’re out of time,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Appropriation Committee’s defense subcommittee. “I can go through a long list of vital programs and funding included in this bill — the wins for our troops, the historic funding for innovation… the time is short, and the stakes have never been higher.”

Congress was supposed to approve full-year funding for the government by the end of September but the process was delayed by nearly six months due to partisan bickering over spending amounts and policies.

The Republican-led House last year approved a defense appropriations bill that had no chance of passing in the Democrat-controlled Senate. It included controversial provisions to reduce Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s salary to $1 and restrict funding for transgender troops’ medical care and the Pentagon’s abortion access policies.

None of those measures made it into the final legislation, though Republicans touted cuts to climate-related funding and a $50 million cut to the Pentagon’s diversity and inclusion programs. They also successfully blocked the Pentagon from spending money to repeal the 2022 law that ended the military’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Both parties found common ground on military pay, arguing boosting compensation was critical for solving persistent recruiting challenges affecting most of the services.

The bill fully funds the 5.2% pay raise service members received in January while also providing $43 million more than the White House requested for monthly economic hardship bonuses for junior enlisted service members through the end of 2024.

The legislation also allocates $80 million more than requested for enlistment bonuses and $30 million more than requested for recruiting and advertising efforts.

“The military services are in the midst of one of the greatest recruiting crises since the creation of the all-volunteer force,” lawmakers wrote in a report accompanying the defense bill. “While there is no apparent single cause for this recruiting crisis, the combination of a diminishing pool of qualified applicants and persistently low propensity to serve in our armed forces are leading contributors.”

To address the latter, lawmakers said the Defense Department needed to work with Congress to “provide legislative options for addressing this crisis to include, but not [be] limited to, increases to junior enlisted basic military pay, as well as other ways to incentivize new recruits and prepare them for duty.”

Members of Congress attempted to hike pay for junior enlisted troops by more than 30% last year but were told to hold off until the Defense Department completed a quadrennial review of military pay by the end of December.

In the meantime, lawmakers are mandating the defense secretary brief them on the progress of the review within a month of the funding bill’s enactment into law. They are also directing the Defense Department to conduct an independent survey to better understand recruitment failures by the services.

“The nation needs America’s youth to strongly consider uniformed service,” lawmakers wrote. “Exquisite weaponry and strategic concepts are of limited value unless they are operated by a fully manned, ready, and motivated force.”

The bill provides several other incentives to attract and retain service members, including nearly $30 million for housing allowances and about $8 million for an allowance that offsets meal costs. Lawmakers are also providing $10 million more than requested for a pilot program to address the inability of some military families to have enough food.

Twitter: @svetashko

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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