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Obama, Congress tussle over military pay raises

Obama, Congress tussle over military pay raises

Military Pay Checks

By Tracy Fuga

What’s the quickest way to make someone mad? Mess with their paycheck. President Barack Obama is rumored to being doing just that to the military pay raise included in Congress’ annual defense spending bill that was unveiled on Tuesday.

The compromised bill includes an overhaul of the troubled military health care system, but it eliminates a controversial proposal to change troops’ housing allowance, leaving the current stipend program essentially unchanged. Totaling approximately $619 billion, the measure represents lawmakers’ final offer to the White House and omits several problematic provisions that have been debated in recent months.

Even with these concessions by Congress, the bill is about $3.2 billion more than President Obama had requested. This leaves the bill vulnerable to a possible veto by the lame-duck president. Obama has stated that he won’t accept an increase in defense spending without corresponding increases in nonmilitary programs. The increase in the budget would be used to pay for additional pay and personnel costs. This would push the 2017 military pay raise from the Pentagon-preferred rate of 1.6 percent to 2.1 percent, a mark equal to the projected rise in private sector wages. If pushed through, it would mark the first time in six years that military pay would increase by more than 2 percent.

Military budget planners had said that money would be better used in other areas, but lawmakers have argued that three consecutive years of negligible pay raises have begun to impact military families’ finances.

If the bill ends up getting vetoed (as many assume Obama will do since it didn’t meet his request), this is a great opportunity for newly elected President Donald Trump to win over the troops once he is officially in office.

More than 60 percent of the nearly 3,000 troops surveyed for a Military Times and Istitute for Veterans and Military Families poll said Trump’s top military priority should be improving their pay and benefits. Pay raises were more important to service members than transforming the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and improving DOD health care, according to the survey.

The Department of Defense has sought to rein in personnel costs under the current administration as broader federal cutbacks have forced the Pentagon to funnel more of those resources toward weapons modernization. In addition to keeping military pay lower, President Obama has also proposed cutting the number of troops in each branch. These suggested cuts did not make it into the defense spending bill.

Under the bill set forth by Congress, the Army would be set at 476,000 soldiers, about 16,000 more than the White House had requested. The Marine Corps would be at 185,000 troops, an increase of about 3,000 over the requested levels. The Air Force would have 321,000 airmen, around 4,000 more than Obama wanted. The Navy would remain steady at 324,000 sailors.

Do you think our men and women in uniform deserve a better pay raise or do they already get compensated fairly?

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