|San Diego Union-Tribune
Another military pay raise expected
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- The men and women of the armed forces, who are enjoying the biggest annual pay raise in a decade, can expect an even bigger boost in pay next year.
Exactly how much, however, is in dispute.
The expected pay raise runs from 3.9 percent to 4.6 percent for everyone in uniform, with undetermined amounts of additional compensation going to other service members in bonuses or incentive pay.
The dispute over the size of next year's pay raise is part of a partisan contest over who gets credit for the $310 billion total defense budget for the next fiscal year that the Bush administration has said it will send to Congress.
Democrats insist that the $310 billion spending plan is exactly what President Clinton and former Defense Secretary William Cohen prepared for the Pentagon before leaving office last month.
"If they come in at $310 (billion), they will be doing what Clinton left behind," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Levin is the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
An aide to Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a senior minority member of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, agreed.
President Bush's aides have conceded that the new Republican administration will submit Clinton's proposed defense budget. But they still insist that Bush is adding money for the defense programs he championed during last year's campaign. That includes higher pay and benefits.
Levin and the Democratic congressional aides said all service members will get a 3.9 percent pay increase, starting Jan. 1, under the expected defense budget. That would be slightly above the 3.7 percent increase Congress and Clinton provided last month.
But 3.9 percent is what is required under legislation approved last year, which required military compensation to go up one-half a percentage point more than the expected increase in the Employee Compensation Index, say Levin and several Democratic aides.
Under long-standing pay formulas replaced by the new legislation, the military would have received one-half a point less than the index, a measure of the average national growth in civilian pay. The law was changed
because statistics indicated that military pay had fallen 13 percent behind the civilian pay index.
But Republican aides say the general pay raise will be 4.6 percent, because of the extra money Bush said Monday he was adding to the defense budget.
During his visit with soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga., Bush said he would provide $5.9 billion in additional defense spending next year. That included $1.4 billion for pay and benefits, $3.9 billion for health care and $400 million for housing.
Defense policy experts agree that the $3.9 billion is required by a new law providing retired service personnel and their dependents health care in military facilities after age 65, instead of going on Medicare.
Levin said the $400 million in housing is to continue the program Cohen started last year to reduce the gap between what service families pay for off-base housing and the maximum housing allowance. If so, it would do
nothing to improve the bulk of military family housing that is considered substandard.
Les Brownlee, the GOP staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had been told that $400 million of Bush's compensation proposal would go to increase the overall pay raise from 3.9 percent to 4.6.
The Washington Post quoted administration officials saying that the 4.6 percent increase is what is required under the formula enacted last year.
The remaining $1 billion, Brownlee said, would be available for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the services to provide bonuses or other compensation increases they consider necessary to help retain skilled personnel. That could mean higher re-enlistment bonuses, or higher incentive pay for key individuals, such as pilots, nuclear-system operators or computer specialists, who are much in demand in the civilian economy.
The details of the pay raise should be clear when Bush submits his budget, now expected Feb. 28.
A group of Democrats in the House has introduced a bill providing $6.7 billion in extra defense funds to cover apparent shortfalls in the current fiscal year's budget. That includes nearly $1 billion to cover additional pay and bonuses required because more veteran military personnel have decided to stay in uniform than the services expected.