Bush pledges $1.4 billion for military pay raises

As anticipated, President Bush Monday pledged a $1.4 billion pay raise for military personnel next year in a move to improve military readiness and lift morale. The proposed increase--which is $400 million larger than the pay hike Bush promised on the campaign trail--was part of a $5.7 billion military spending package outlined by Bush that includes funds to bolster military housing and health benefits. "You deserve a military that treats you and your families with respect," said Bush in a speech to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.. "And America needs a military where our best and brightest are proud to serve, and proud to stay." The Washington Post reported that $400 million of the pay hike would be allocated for an across-the-board pay raise, while Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would use the remaining $1 billion for targeted retention bonuses or for supplements to the across-the-board raise. Pentagon officials were unable to confirm this report, and the White House and Office of Management and Budget did not return phone calls seeking comment. In its parting fiscal 2002 budget recommendations, the Clinton administration projected a raise of 3.9 percent for military personnel. Adding $400 million to this baseline would amount to a raise of 4.6 percent in the next fiscal year, the same increase that military personnel would get based on the data traditionally used to set federal and military pay rates. If Rumsfeld elected to use the full $1.4 billion for an across-the-board pay increase, service members would get a raise of nearly 7 percent, according to congressional estimates. Even if Bush's pay hike approaches 7 percent, it would give military personnel less money than two bills recently introduced in Congress. The Armed Services Appreciation Pay Raise Act (H.R. 298), sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., proposes an 8.1 percent military pay raise for fiscal 2002, while Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., would give the military a 7.3 percent raise in his Military Pay Equity Act (H.R. 244). Rehberg's bill would also take effect immediately after it became law, unlike Bush's, which would not be effective until the start of the next fiscal year. Despite its difference from his own proposal, Rehberg said he could support the administration's pay raise if it was targeted at enlisted personnel and mid-level officers, whose retention numbers have sagged in recent years. "Mid-level officers would deserve special consideration," he said. But Rehberg, who cautioned that he was not familiar with the details of Bush's proposal, said the raise should not be tilted toward senior officers. "If [Bush's proposed raise] gives exorbitant raises to senior officers, I might have to say, 'Wait a minute,'" Rehberg said. In the Clinton administration and previous Bush administration, service members and civilian employees received the same pay increases. OMB officials did not return calls seeking comment on whether all federal workers would receive the $1.4 billion raise proposed by Bush. Bush also proposed spending $3.9 billion to improve military health benefits and $400 million to bolster military housing.
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