A group representing military officers will meet Thursday with representatives from other service and veterans organization and seek a united front in opposing President Obama's recently announced 1 percent cap on 2015 troop pay raises.
The Military Officers Association of America wants Congress to override Obama's decision and grant the 1.8 percent pay raise that service members would get under a federal formula. The American Legion, which on Wednesday announced its own opposition to the President's action, wants to see a 2 percent increase for the military.
"It is the least we can do, even in these trying fiscal times, to maintain a decent quality of life for our servicemembers," Legion National Commander Michael D. Helm said in a statement. Helm said 2 percent is the rate of inflation for the past 12 months, according to the federal government.
"With a war in Afghanistan, boots back on the ground in Iraq, and ISIS on the loose in the Middle East, is a 1 percent salary raise really the best we can do for the men and women we expect to meet those challenges?" Helm asked.
Except for MOAA and the Legion, response to the 1 percent cap has so far been quiet, though Michael Hayden, director of government relations for MOAA, said believes that is linked to the timing of the announcement.
"The President elected to do this just before a three-day weekend, and some folks are still on vacation at this time," Hayden said.
A spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars said that the group does not plan to comment on the 1 percent cap.
Hayden hopes to get more groups on board on Wednesday when he meets with The Military Coalition, a 33-member organization service associations and veterans groups that he co-chairs.
This is the second consecutive year that Obama, in agreement with the Defense Department, has limited the raise to 1 percent. The White House and Pentagon are trying to keep costs down, and Obama cited "serious economic conditions" as justification for the cap.
Hayden said the cap "is a very difficult pill to swallow" at a time when the force is downsizing and the country remains at war. "This sends a horrific message to the troops," he said. The move is also bound to hurt military retention, he said.
The good news is that this is an election year, Hayden said, which means some lawmakers in the Senate – which has already voted for a 1 percent cap on raises – could be persuaded to take another look and override Obama's decision.
The House voted for the 1.8 percent raise, but has no choice under the law but to live with Obama's decision unless the Senate does revisit its vote.
"It's not a done deal, but in order to overturn this it's going to have to take a strong push by someone within the Senate," Hayden said. MOAA is now trying to find a champion in the Senate that will introduce an amendment to the 2015 budget on the floor kicking up the raise to 1.8 percent.
If that happened the amendment would be subject to a conference committee deal with the House, he said, though the House is already on the side of the 1.8 percent increase.
"And then there is still an opportunity for a veto by the President," he said.
If it got that far Obama would have to consider his veto in light of the November elections, Hayden said.
It has been about two decades since Congress passed legislation mandating federal pay keep pace with the private sector. But a provision in the law provides wiggle room for a President to adjust the formula in the event of national emergencies and tough economic conditions.
Though President George W. Bush lowered an expected federal pay raise for civilian workers after the 9/11 attacks, military pay raises continued. But the brakes were put on these after the market crash in 2008, which led to demands reduced spending.
Obama in 2010 scaled back a planned 2.4 military pay raise to 2 percent.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at email@example.com