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House Panel Backs 3.9% Pay Raise
WASHINGTON -- A House panel Wednesday backed a 3.9 percent pay raise for all military personnel next year, mirroring Senate plans to give troops a bigger boost than Pentagon officials had requested.
Members of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee included the money in their draft of the new defense authorization bill, which sets spending and policy priorities for the military in fiscal 2009.
Chairwoman Susan Davis, D-Calif., said the larger pay raise is needed to help shrink the gap between military wages and private sector paychecks.
If passed, the pay raise would be the highest for troops since 2004 and the 10th consecutive year military pay has outpaced the employment cost index.
Defense officials had requested a 3.4 percent increase, equal to the index's inflation estimate. But earlier this month Senate lawmakers backed the 3.9 percent figure, indicating that both chambers will likely adopt the higher raise when they negotiate compromise legislation later this year.
For an E-4 with four years' military service, the Senate plan would mean an increase of $79.86 a month, about $10 more than the Pentagon plan. For an O-4 with four years, it would be $189.25 a month, about $24 more than the Pentagon plan.
The House panel also announced plans to eliminate co-pays for preventive care procedures such as cancer screenings and cholesterol tests in an effort to encourage more Tricare patients to seek medical advice before serious problems occur.
Davis said the plan covers all beneficiaries except those enrolled in Tricare for Life. She said lawmakers were unable to find enough money to extend the same coverage to that group along with other Tricare members.
It also includes a pilot program for military spouses to receive job training in "portable" careers as they move from base to base, and another to allow servicemembers a temporary gap in service to pursue family or education goals before completing their tours of duty.
But the draft excludes nearly $1.2 billion in pharmacy and doctors' fees backed by defense officials to cover the rising cost of health care. Lawmakers have rebuffed those efforts in recent years, saying military retirees shouldn't bear the brunt of those expenses.
The authorization bill does not set pay raises for civilian defense employees, but Congress often uses the military paycheck boosts as the basis for the civilian raises in later budget bills.
If passed, the raise would go into effect Jan. 1.
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