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House Panel Pushes 1.8 Percent Troop Pay Raise

A U.S. House of Representatives panel voted for a 1.8 percent troop pay raise in fiscal 2015, though the boost is far from guaranteed.

The House Appropriations Committee, headed by Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, on Tuesday passed its version of the defense spending bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, including the statutory military pay raise designed to keep pace with private-sector wage growth.

The measure, which goes to the full House for debate, budgets "$534 million to fully fund the authorized 1.8 percent pay increase for the troops,"  Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey, who chairs the panel's defense subcommittee, said during a hearing to debate the legislation.

The bill would also cover the entire cost of basic allowances for housing for troops next year and restore $100 million in funding for the Defense Commissary Agency to provide subsidized groceries and household goods for service members and their families, veterans and retirees.

Overall, it would provide $128 billion for military personnel and pay, some $830 million less than what the Defense Department requested, and $31.6 billion for defense health and military family programs, about $360 million less than the Pentagon request.

In approving the language for the higher troop raise, the panel's members broke ranks with their colleagues on other congressional defense committees.

The House Armed Services Committee, led by Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, last month voiced support for a 1.8 percent troop pay raise but approved legislation that would allow President Barack Obama to limit the increase to 1 percent. The language was later adopted by the full House. The Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, was more explicit and voted to cap the raise at the lower level.

Both the House appropriations and armed services committees rejected most of the Pentagon's proposals to curb personnel costs by reducing housing, commissary and health care benefits.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, though, agreed with the department's plans to curb raises for most troops, slow the growth of basic allowances for housing until recipients pay about 5 percent of the cost, and increase pharmacy co-pays for prescriptions filled outside military treatment facilities.

Many lawmakers want to wait until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, an independent panel mandated by Congress, issues its findings next February before making significant changes to military benefits.

Within the defense health and military family programs, the House appropriators also earmarked an additional $246 million for cancer research, $150 million for medical facility upgrades, $125 million for traumatic brain injury and psychological health research, and $39 million for suicide prevention outreach programs.

Congressional leaders have said they want to finish the defense bills by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, a goal that's frequently missed due in part to the fact that Congress breaks for an extended summer recess in which neither chamber is in session for the entire month of August.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@monster.com

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