White House: 3.5 percent pay hike unnecessary
By Rick Maze - Army Times
Troops don’t need bigger pay raises, White House budget officials said Wednesday in a statement of administration policy laying out objections to the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill.
The Bush administration had asked for a 3 percent military raise for Jan. 1, 2008, enough to match last year’s average pay increase in the private sector. The House Armed Services Committee recommends a 3.5 percent pay increase for 2008, and increases in 2009 through 2012 that also are 0.5 percentage point greater than private-sector pay raises.
The slightly bigger military raises are intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today. Under the bill, HR 1585, the pay gap would be reduced to 1.4 percent after the Jan. 1, 2012, pay increase.
Bush budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases “unnecessary.”
“When combined with the overall military benefit package, the president’s proposal provides a good quality of life for service members and their families,” the policy statement says.
While we agree military pay must be kept competitive, the 3 percent raise, equal to the increase in the Employment Cost Index, will do that.”
The House of Representatives plans on passing the bill tomorrow. The Senate Armed Services Committee has announced it will start writing its version of the bill next week.
Two items in the House defense bill could lead to a veto, the policy statement warns. One is a change in the National Security Personnel system that would back away from the pay-for-performance initiative pushed by the Bush administration and reverse some of the flexibility provided in current law. The second issue that could prompt a veto are Buy America provisions in the bill that White House officials said “would impose unrealistically arduous requirements.”
In addition to the pay raise, there are other personnel initiatives in the bill that the White House opposes.
A prohibition on converting medical jobs held by military members into civilian positions drew opposition. “This will eliminate the flexibility of the Secretary of Defense to use civilian medical personnel for jobs away from the battlefield and at the same time use the converted military billets to enhance the strength of operating units,” the policy statement says.
A death gratuity for federal civilian employees who die in support of military operations, and new benefits for disabled retirees and the survivors of military retirees also drew complaints.
This includes the transfer of the GI Bill benefits program for reservists from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs, a step that GI Bill supporters said is needed to set the stage for increases in reserve benefits that have been kept low by the military because it views the program as a retention incentive rather than a post-service education program.
Refusal by lawmakers to approve Tricare fees for beneficiaries, something administration officials view as an important step in holding down health care cost, also drew opposition, along with a provision imposing price controls on prescription drugs dispensed to Tricare users.
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