Trump Budget Calls for 2.1% Military Pay Raise in 2018
President Donald Trump's first defense budget proposal Tuesday included a 2.1 percent pay hike in 2018 as part of an overall plan that appeared to fall short of his campaign pledge to fund a "historic" rebuilding of the military.
The pay request topped the proposal by the administration of former President Barack Obama for a military pay hike of 1.6 percent for next year, but was the same as the increase enacted by Congress for the current year.
The raise would translate into about $50 more per month for enlisted troops with four years of service and about $115 a month for officers with six years, according to Military Times.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said the Defense Department's baseline budget proposal of $603 billion unveiled by the White House Office of Management and Budget and fleshed out by the Pentagon did not offer significantly more than Obama had initially proposed for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and would face a major overhaul in the House and Senate.
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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters that presidential budget proposals were often "dead on arrival" in Congress and "I think [Trump's] may find a similar fate."
At a Brookings Institution forum on Monday, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said of the plan that "it's basically the Obama approach with a little bit more, but not much."
Thornberry has proposed adding $37 billion on top of the $54 billion hike in defense spending advocated by Trump in his overall $1.1 trillion request for the entire federal government to bring the Pentagon base budget to $640 billion.
In addition to the $603 billion base budget, the Pentagon also asked for $65 billion in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations -- the so-called war budget.
The $65 billion included $45.9 billion for Afghanistan, $13 billion for Iraq and Syria, and $4.8 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative to shore up NATO allies against the Russian threat. The ERI request was a $1.4 billion increase over last year's funding.
At a briefing and in documents released Tuesday, the Pentagon gave detail to the OMB outline to include funding levels for the services, personnel, and major weapons procurements.
In an overview, Pentagon budget authors echoed what Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has often stated: "Years of budget cuts and budget uncertainty have led to a depleted military and it will take a number of years to undo the damage."
At the Pentagon briefing, John Roth, who was performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), said the Pentagon's plan was generally in line with Trump's request for a $54 billion increase in military spending in fiscal 2018 beginning in the fall.
"I would argue that is not chump change," Roth said, but he conceded that the plan did not vary much from the initial proposal for the period from Obama.
Trump's budget total "doesn't change significantly" the Obama plan, Roth said. "There are no new programs, no significant new initiatives," he said.
Pentagon officials said Congressional approval of the request would result in "more aircraft in the air, ships at sea, troops in the field and munitions on hand to rebuild the current force."
The $54 billion increase would actually translate into a $52 billion, or 9.8 percent increase, over the current budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 -- the so-called sequester process, according to the department.
The request counted on Congress being able to come to an agreement on lifting sequestration, which lawmakers have failed to do for the past five years.
"We must reverse sequestration" to rebuild readiness against a growing range of threats," Roth said. "We must increase the budget caps," he said, while acknowledging that it was "hard to predict" what Congress would do with the proposals.
However, Roth said "I'm fairly sanguine" that much of the request would survive the legislative process. "I think we've made our case."
Budget analysts had a different take on the prospects for Trump's budget plan on Capitol Hill.
"Dead on arrival is an understatement," said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In a series of tweets, Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that Trump had submitted a "vanilla" military spending request that was "in line with recent historical precedent and is nothing extraordinary or historical" as the president had claimed.
In some cases, Trump's requests matched Obama's exactly.
The Pentagon proposal included $141.6 billion for military personnel, $223.3 billion for operations and maintenance, $115 billion for procurements, $82.7 billion for research and development and $11.9 billion for military construction and family housing.
The active duty force would build up from 1.27 million to 1.31 million -- an increase of 42,800 troops, according to a handout distributed to reporters at the Pentagon. A Pentagon budget overview estimates the year-over-year increase in end-strength would be smaller, on the order of 6,000 active-duty troops. The discrepency appears to involve differing estimates for the current fiscal year.
The Army -- which is currently racing to add tens of thousands of soldiers by the end of the current fiscal year -- would remain flat at 476,000 soldiers from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2018. Meanwhile, the Navy would add 1,400 sailors to 327,900; the Marine Corps 600 Marines to 185,000; and the Air Force 4,000 airmen to 325,100, according to the budget overview.
While seeking Congressional approval, Roth said the Pentagon would continue to press for another round of base closures through the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC, process to shut down excess facilities. He said the department estimated that about 20 percent of facilities could be closed without a negative effect on the military.
However, Roth said the Pentagon would wait until 2021 -- past the 2020 elections and Trump's presumed run for a second term -- before pressing for base closings that are politically anathema in Congress.
"It's been over 10 years since we've had a BRAC round," Roth said. Even the suggestion of a BRAC round was so politically toxic in the House and Senate that "we can't even do detailed analysis under current law," Roth said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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