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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

House Republicans Aren’t Budging on Military Compensation

Solider train at Fort Hood, Texas in March. Solider train at Fort Hood, Texas in March. Defense Department

Military families have delivered a clear message to the Defense Department and Congress: Don’t cut our subsidized housing, groceries or other fringe benefits.

House Republicans have listened.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., previewed his 2015 National Defense Authorization Act -- scheduled for full release Monday -- with his marks on subcommittee bills. The Military Personnel Subcommittee’s bill would “hedg[e] against the chance the defense cuts erode the sacred trust between our warfighters and the American people.”

Specifically, the language rejects changes to TRICARE that would increase costs to participants, massive cuts to commissaries and reduced basic housing allowances. Committee Republicans said the proposals, put forth by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget, “would have increased out-pocket-costs for military families.”

Hagel’s plan would slash $1 billion in 2015 from the Defense Commissary Agency’s $1.4 billion annual budget. In a recent survey, military families overwhelmingly said such cuts would negatively impact them. The proposal came after military leaders and President Obama said unfettered growth in compensation costs would damage readiness in the years to come.

Reviews, Studies, Commissions

The personnel subcommittee’s proposal would require a survey of “random members of the armed forces” on the subject of pay and benefits. The study would measure the value servicemen and women place on their compensation.  The lawmakers also suggested “outside experts” review the commissary program to identify savings that would not reduce military families’ benefits.

The Defense Department is currently conducting its own review:  The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is scheduled to report its findings in early 2015. Lawmakers have consistently shown a reluctance to reform compensation for military members, most recently when they undid cuts to pension payments for working-age retirees.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, will offer a speech on the fiscal 2015 authorization act Thursday. In a preview of the address, Smith’s office said, “The failure to make tough budgetary choices, regarding defense priorities, risks fielding a military that is improperly calibrated for achieving strategic objectives.”

A spokesman for Smith declined to elaborate on the specifics of the “tough choices” in advance of the speech, but said lawmakers must “make sure we’re balancing priorities.”

Congressional Pay

While lawmakers debate cutting compensation for service members, one congressman is also looking out for the lawmakers themselves.  

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday rejected a final push from Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., to create a voluntary $25 per day stipend for members who live at least 50 miles outside Washington, D.C. 

Moran, who is retiring at the end of 2014, previously failed in his efforts to grant lawmakers a pay raise. The 23-year congressman has argued many members “can’t even afford to live in Washington.”

The proposed stipend would have only been in effect for days in which Congress was in session, offering lawmakers up to $2,800 annually. Moran attempted to put the amendment to the legislative branch’s fiscal 2015 spending bill through the Rules Committee so it could receive a vote on the full House floor, but the committee did not oblige him. 

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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