Service members would see the largest military pay raise in more than 20 years under the budget proposal unveiled by President Joe Biden on Thursday.
The proposal for a 5.2% bump in basic military pay is part of the administration's overall request for $842 billion in Pentagon funding for fiscal 2024, which would be the largest Defense Department budget ever and a $26 billion increase over what Congress approved for the department this year.
By law, the annual military pay raise is tied to what's called the Employment Cost Index and would take effect at the rate called for in the index Jan. 1 regardless of any presidential or congressional action. Congress typically endorses the raise proposed by the president.
The 5.2% raise proposed by Biden is the rate consistent with the index. It would be the largest raise since a 6.9% increase in 2002. By comparison, this year's raise, which was the largest in a decade, was 4.6%.
But critics have argued the Employment Cost Index lags behind inflation, which has slowed in recent months to about 6% but hit a peak of 9% over the summer.
That, as well as what critics say are out-of-date calculations for benefits such as the Basic Allowance for Housing, has led troops to struggle in recent years to afford food, housing and other necessities.
Congress created a Basic Needs Allowance in 2021 to help low-income troops struggling with food insecurity, but critics argue that too has so far fallen short of its promise.
The release of the president's budget, essentially a wish list of the administration's policy priorities, kicks off what is expected to be a contentious debate on Capitol Hill over funding the federal government. Congress has ultimate say in funding levels and often deviates from the administration's blueprint; the last two years, lawmakers have infused billions more into the Pentagon than the administration requested.
But this year's budget debate is expected to be marked by a House GOP pledge to cut overall government funding to fiscal 2022 levels, and a Republican divide over whether to include Pentagon funding in the cuts. Some Republicans argue the Pentagon should not be immune from cuts, particularly pointing to so-called "woke" funding for diversity initiatives that account for a fraction of the budget, while House defense hawks and senators in both parties say the military needs a 3% to 5% increase above inflation every year in order to outcompete China and Russia.
Still, there has been broad bipartisan concern in recent years that military pay is not keeping pace with inflation and a bipartisan desire to reform compensation and benefits to compete with the private sector amid a recruiting slump.
White House budget documents say the administration is also requesting "annual rate increases for both housing and subsistence allowances," though the rates are not specified.
More details on the Pentagon's budget plans are expected to be released next week.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.