Senate appropriators OK military pay raise, reject layoff notice proposal

Amendment would have required contractors to issue warnings, contrary to Labor Department ruling.

Senate appropriators unanimously approved a 1.7 percent pay raise for military service members Thursday as part of the fiscal 2013 Defense spending bill. But they rejected an attempt to grant contractors more advance notice of potential layoffs from sequestration.

The Senate’s version of the $604.5 billion appropriations bill does not mention a pay raise for the Pentagon’s civilian employees, in keeping with silence from lawmakers in both chambers of Congress on President Obama’s request for a 0.5 percent civilian pay hike. The pay raise for military service members is the same amount approved this spring by Senate authorizers.

The Defense appropriations bill now moves to the full Senate. It comes in $29 billion less than current spending levels and is $392 million higher than President Obama’s budget request.

The legislation also designates $33.2 billion for the Defense Health Program, which includes TRICARE. The Obama administration has been at odds with lawmakers over TRICARE this budget cycle; the White House wants fee increases to help rein in personnel costs but lawmakers have not gone along with the proposal. They also have questioned the Defense Department’s recent request to transfer $708 million in fiscal 2012 from the Defense Health Program and TRICARE to use for other unspecified priorities. The $606 billion Defense spending bill the full House approved in July includes an amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to increase TRICARE health coverage for Medicare-covered beneficiaries older than 65.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s markup of the Defense spending bill Thursday quickly turned into a debate on how to avoid a budget sequester. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reminded committee members that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that the across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to kick in on Jan. 2, 2013, would be disastrous for the department. The senator urged Republicans on the committee to compromise with Democrats, who insist that raising revenues must be part of a plan to avoid sequester.

Graham also offered an amendment that would have required federal contractors to issue notices of possible layoffs due to sequestration 60 days prior to Jan. 2. The committee rejected the amendment by a 17-13 vote. The Labor Department ruled earlier this week that contractors should not issue these notices.

Although the House already has passed several spending bills for fiscal 2013, the full Senate has yet to pass any appropriations bills.

Lawmakers reportedly agreed on a six-month stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

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