Military moves one step closer to a pay raise

Aaron Favila/AP file photo

A Senate subcommittee approved a 1.7 percent pay raise for military service members on Tuesday.

The $604.5 billion Defense spending bill the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee reported out also adds $392 million above President Obama’s budget request to cover shortfalls in military personnel accounts that the services identified after the fiscal 2013 budget was submitted.

The pay raise for service members in the Defense spending bill is the same amount the Senate Armed Services Committee approved in May in the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill summary, released by the Appropriations Committee, does not mention a pay raise for Defense civilian employees. The full committee could address the issue when it considers the legislation, but it’s unlikely given the silence from lawmakers in both chambers on whether or not to grant civilian workers a pay raise next year.

The Defense appropriations subcommittee also rejected the Obama administration’s proposed fee increases for retirees enrolled in TRICARE, the military’s health care program. So far, committees in both chambers have opposed the White House’s recommendation to raise the health care contributions of military retirees based on their retirement pay, in addition to other fee hikes.

The legislation includes $33.2 billion for the Defense Health Program, which includes TRICARE. It also recommended an additional $60 million for mental health and traumatic brain injury research, as well as $194 million for certain cancer research programs.

TRICARE has emerged as a flash point between Congress and the administration during the past year. The White House has pushed for fee increases to contain the Pentagon’s spiraling personnel costs, which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have refused to go along with to avoid alienating an important political constituency. The Defense Department recently asked Congress to transfer $708 million in fiscal 2012 funds from the Defense Health Program and TRICARE to use for other, unspecified priorities. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers last week sent Defense Secretary Leon Panetta a letter questioning the request and refusing to grant it until they receive more information.

The subcommittee’s bill also includes security spending reductions as directed in the 2011 Budget Control Act, proposing 475 reductions to programs in the budget request “due to program terminations or delays, changes to policies or programs since submission of the budget in February 2012, inadequate justifications, or corrections to poor fiscal discipline in the Defense Department,” the summary stated.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider the Defense spending bill on Thursday.

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