Two new bills push bigger military pay raise

Two members of Congress introduced bills this week to increase military pay, pushing one of President Bush's campaign promises one step closer to reality. The Armed Services Appreciation Pay Raise Act (H.R. 298), sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., proposes a 3.5 percent increase over next year's projected military pay increase of 4.6 percent. Across the aisle, Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., has offered up the Military Pay Equity Act of 2001 (H.R. 244), which aims to raise military pay by 7.3 percent in 2002. While on the campaign trail, President Bush pledged to pump an additional $1 billion a year into service members' wallets. "When combined with last year's pay raise, my bill will give service personnel an increase that can make a real difference in their monthly budget," Rehberg said. "This size increase is enough for a car payment or a shopping cart full of groceries." The proposed military pay increases may break the traditional link between pay for service members and civilian federal employees. In 1982, military personnel got a 14.3 percent raise and over the next few years continued to receive higher pay raises than their civilian counterparts. After 1986, annual civilian pay increases kept pace with the military. This year, both groups received a 3.7 percent increase. President Clinton recommended a 3.9 percent raise for federal employees in his parting fiscal 2002 budget recommendations. Congress passed legislation in 1999 authorizing military pay increases of 0.5 percent above the change in the Employment Cost Index each year through 2006. Under that formula, next year's projected increase is 4.6 percent. Rehberg's bill would increase that by 3.5 percent, for a total 8.1 percent raise.

Murtha's bill would eliminate the ECI formula and give military personnel a flat 7.3 percent increase next year. It also would require the Defense Department to compile a report making recommendations on raises for specific pay grades.

"As long as there are military personnel collecting food stamps, as long as there are Americans who choose not to serve because they cannot afford to, we obviously have a problem that needs to be solved," Rehberg told House members. Rehberg's bill would take effect immediately after it became law; Murtha's bill would become effective on Jan. 1, 2002, if passed into law.

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