House Panel Moves to Block Cuts to Troop Benefits

Congress and troops

A subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives offered legislation that would reject the Pentagon's proposed cuts to troop benefits including housing allowances and Tricare.

The House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., on Tuesday released the legislative language as part of the subcommittee's markup of the annual defense bill. It will begin debating the legislation on Wednesday.

The subcommittee's version of the proposed defense budget would block the Defense Department's proposals to slow the growth of basic allowances for housing until service members, on average, pay 5 percent of the cost; consolidate Tricare coverage into a single health care plan; and reduce subsidies for commissaries, according to a press release.

The language "rejects proposals that would have increased out-of-pocket costs for military families, including the elimination of most Tricare plans, and reduction of housing allowances and commissary benefits," according to a copy of the document distributed by the House Armed Services Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif.

While the mark doesn't appear to address the Pentagon's recommendation to reduce the next pay raise for most troops to 1 percent from 1.7 percent, it does call for a one-year extension of certain bonuses and special pays for various groups, including reserve forces, nuclear officers and health care professionals.

The language would also require Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to conduct "an anonymous survey of random members of the Armed Forces regarding pay and benefits, including the value that members place on forms of compensation, relative to one another, including basic pay, allowances for housing, bonuses and special pay, healthcare benefits, and retirement pay," according to the mark. is currently conducting an independent survey on the same topic. Readers can participate by clicking here.

Military personnel costs are budgeted at $177 billion in fiscal 2015, or more than a third of the department's non-war budget of $496 billion. Including civilian personnel, the percentage rises to almost half of the spending plan.

The Pentagon's top brass and various think-tanks in Washington, D.C., argue military compensation reform is needed after a decade of spiraling personnel costs, driven in part by the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, advocacy groups such as the Military Officers Association of America say the department's proposals unfairly target service members and their families. They want Congress to enact changes only after debating the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which is expected to conclude its work next February.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at

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