House Republicans Aren’t Budging on Military Compensation

Lawmakers want more studies and reviews.

US Army soldiers from 2-506 Infantry 101st Airborne Division survey the landscape as they arrive at the summit of a mountain they will set up a patrol base a, during the launch of Operation Radu Bark VI in the Spira mountains in Khost province, five kms from the Afghan-Pakistan Border, directly across the border from Pakistan's lawless Waziristan region on November 11, 2008. US soldiers, along with the Afghan National Army, launched Operation Radu Bark VI in the Spira mountains setting up a patrol base along a known insurgent infiltration route, at altitudes up to 10,000 feet, conducting dismounted maneuvers in the mountains, and setting up observation posts throughout the area. AFP PHOTO/DAVID FURST (Photo credit should read DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Eric Katz, Government Executive
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Eric Katz, Government Executive
May 1, 2014, 8:07 a.m.

Mil­it­ary fam­il­ies have de­livered a clear mes­sage to the De­fense De­part­ment and Con­gress: Don’t cut our sub­sid­ized hous­ing, gro­cer­ies or oth­er fringe be­ne­fits.

House Re­pub­lic­ans have listened.

Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon, R-Cal­if., pre­viewed his 2015 Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act — sched­uled for full re­lease Monday — with his marks on sub­com­mit­tee bills. The Mil­it­ary Per­son­nel Sub­com­mit­tee’s bill would “hedg[e] against the chance the de­fense cuts erode the sac­red trust between our warfight­ers and the Amer­ic­an people.”

Spe­cific­ally, the lan­guage re­jects changes to TRI­CARE that would in­crease costs to par­ti­cipants, massive cuts to com­mis­sar­ies and re­duced ba­sic hous­ing al­low­ances. Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans said the pro­pos­als, put forth by De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel in the Pentagon’s fisc­al 2015 budget, “would have in­creased out-pock­et-costs for mil­it­ary fam­il­ies.”

Hagel’s plan would slash $1 bil­lion in 2015 from the De­fense Com­mis­sary Agency’s $1.4 bil­lion an­nu­al budget. In a re­cent sur­vey, mil­it­ary fam­il­ies over­whelm­ingly said such cuts would neg­at­ively im­pact them. The pro­pos­al came after mil­it­ary lead­ers and Pres­id­ent Obama said un­fettered growth in com­pens­a­tion costs would dam­age read­i­ness in the years to come.

Re­views, Stud­ies, Com­mis­sions

The per­son­nel sub­com­mit­tee’s pro­pos­al would re­quire a sur­vey of “ran­dom mem­bers of the armed forces” on the sub­ject of pay and be­ne­fits. The study would meas­ure the value ser­vice­men and wo­men place on their com­pens­a­tion. The law­makers also sug­ges­ted “out­side ex­perts” re­view the com­mis­sary pro­gram to identi­fy sav­ings that would not re­duce mil­it­ary fam­il­ies’ be­ne­fits.

The De­fense De­part­ment is cur­rently con­duct­ing its own re­view: The Mil­it­ary Com­pens­a­tion and Re­tire­ment Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Com­mis­sion is sched­uled to re­port its find­ings in early 2015. Law­makers have con­sist­ently shown a re­luct­ance to re­form com­pens­a­tion for mil­it­ary mem­bers, most re­cently when they un­did cuts to pen­sion pay­ments for work­ing-age re­tir­ees.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., rank­ing mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, will of­fer a speech on the fisc­al 2015 au­thor­iz­a­tion act Thursday. In a pre­view of the ad­dress, Smith’s of­fice said, “The fail­ure to make tough budget­ary choices, re­gard­ing de­fense pri­or­it­ies, risks field­ing a mil­it­ary that is im­prop­erly cal­ib­rated for achiev­ing stra­tegic ob­ject­ives.”

A spokes­man for Smith de­clined to elab­or­ate on the spe­cif­ics of the “tough choices” in ad­vance of the speech, but said law­makers must “make sure we’re bal­an­cing pri­or­it­ies.”

Con­gres­sion­al Pay

While law­makers de­bate cut­ting com­pens­a­tion for ser­vice mem­bers, one con­gress­man is also look­ing out for the law­makers them­selves.

The House Rules Com­mit­tee on Tues­day re­jec­ted a fi­nal push from Rep. Jim Mor­an, D-Va., to cre­ate a vol­un­tary $25 per day sti­pend for mem­bers who live at least 50 miles out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Mor­an, who is re­tir­ing at the end of 2014, pre­vi­ously failed in his ef­forts to grant law­makers a pay raise. The 23-year con­gress­man has ar­gued many mem­bers “can’t even af­ford to live in Wash­ing­ton.”

The pro­posed sti­pend would have only been in ef­fect for days in which Con­gress was in ses­sion, of­fer­ing law­makers up to $2,800 an­nu­ally. Mor­an at­temp­ted to put the amend­ment to the le­gis­lat­ive branch’s fisc­al 2015 spend­ing bill through the Rules Com­mit­tee so it could re­ceive a vote on the full House floor, but the com­mit­tee did not ob­lige him.

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