Military personnel still will receive an across-the-board pay raise in 2014 even if Congress can’t approve legislation authorizing one before the end of the year.
President Obama has recommended a 1 percent increase in basic pay for military service members next year, which will take effect during the first pay period on or after Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t pass a bill calling for a specific amount, or prohibiting one. The Senate fiscal 2014 Defense authorization bill, which contains a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel, has stalled in the upper chamber, leaving the legislation in limbo until after Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess. The House passed its version of the fiscal 2014 Defense authorization bill in June, which includes a 1.8 percent pay boost for troops.
Once the Senate passes its bill, the two chambers must agree on a final version in conference committee.
The formula for determining service members’ annual pay increase is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Cost Index and the growth in private-sector wages; for 2014, that turns out to be 1.8 percent. But under the law (Title 37, Chapter 19, Section 1009) the president has the authority to set an alternate pay raise for military personnel, citing a national emergency or fiscal concerns, if Congress doesn’t pass legislation adjusting the amount or canceling it. The 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act allows the president through executive order to set a pay raise for federal civilian employees under the same circumstances.
The president notifies Congress by the end of August each year regarding alternate pay plans for civilian employees and military personnel. This year, Obama sent Aug. 30 letters to lawmakers regarding his proposed 1 percent pay raise for both groups in 2014.
The Senate failed to move ahead last week on its $625 billion fiscal 2014 Defense authorization bill because of fights over amendments and a separate, controversial vote earlier in the day that changed the chamber’s filibuster rules on presidential nominees. That means Senate lawmakers have roughly a week before the end of the year to pass the defense measure and work with the House on ironing out differences between the two bills, including the different military pay raise amounts included in each version. The Senate returns from Thanksgiving recess on Dec. 9, and the House returns on Dec. 3, and plans to adjourn on Dec. 13.
Although the across-the-board military raise is a given, the delay in the Senate could affect other types of pay, including combat and hardship duty compensation.
“As is the case every year, if we fail to enact this bill, our troops will not get the full amount of compensation to which they are entitled,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., in floor remarks on Nov. 21. “If we fail to act, the [Defense] Department’s authority to pay out combat pay, hardship duty pay, special pay for nuclear-qualified servicemembers, enlistment and reenlistment bonuses, incentive pay for critical specialties, assignment incentive pay, and accession and retention bonuses for critical specialties will expire on Dec. 31.”