Enlisted Troops Could See 30% Pay Hike Under House's 2024 Defense Spending Bill

processing a cash transaction at Osan Air Base
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Janica Rimas, 51st Comptroller Squadron cashier, helps a customer with processing a cash transaction at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Jan. 8, 2021. (Branden Rae/U.S. Air Force)

Junior enlisted troops could see their pay jump more than 30% next year under a proposal unveiled Wednesday by House Republicans.

A House panel's proposal for annual Pentagon spending would give E-6s and below significant increases in their base pay, and lawmakers want to set aside $800 million to rework the military's pay scale for those service members.

On top of the rewritten pay scale, all service members would also get a 5.2% pay raise under the bill drafted by the House Appropriations Committee. That means the junior enlisted personnel would see even bigger pay bumps than the 30% increases in the pay chart.

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Under the new pay scale in the bill, monthly base pay would be:

  • $2,600.60 for an E-1 with at least four months of service
  • $2,799.20 for an E-2
  • $2,900.90 to $3,050.60 for an E-3, depending on years of service
  • $3,010.50 to $3,260.30 for an E-4, depending on years of service
  • $3,100.30 to $3,250.20 for an E-5, depending on years of service
  • $3,210 for an E-6 with less than two years of service

By comparison, right now an E-1 with at least four months of service makes $1,917.63 per month, while an E-6 with two years or less makes $2,980.47 per month.

The pay scale in the appropriations bill is in line with a proposal Republicans on the Appropriations Committee have previously put forward to ensure service members make at least $31,200 per year, or the equivalent of $15 per hour for a 40-hour workweek.

Lawmakers in both parties in recent years have raised concerns that junior enlisted members are struggling to afford basic necessities such as food and housing. Those concerns reached a fever pitch last year as inflation soared.

While inflation has cooled in recent months, lawmakers have still worried that military pay is not keeping pace with the private sector, potentially adding to recruiting struggles.

The release of the spending bill comes the same day the House Armed Services Committee formally launched a new bipartisan panel on service member quality of life that in part is intended to look into ways to reform junior enlisted pay.

"If you do across-the-board pay increases, over time the low and the high end just keeps going a little farther and farther apart," Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., the chairman of the quality-of-life panel, told reporters Wednesday. "If you put something on autopilot, over time you get some distortions."

While reforming military pay is a bipartisan concern, the Appropriations Committee's Pentagon spending bill is likely to be bogged down in partisan fights over several policy riders Republicans added to their draft, as well as a broader brawl over fiscal 2024 government spending levels.

While the $826 billion Pentagon spending bill follows the agreement Congress reached two weeks ago to cap spending in exchange for raising the debt limit, House Republicans have decided to cut other government agencies lower than the caps, infuriating Democrats and throwing a wrench into the overall appropriations process this year.

The Pentagon bill takes aim at a slew of policies that Republicans have labeled "woke." Republicans argue the social policies are harming the military, but military officials maintain that policies that encourage a more diverse and inclusive force make it stronger.

The funding bill would prohibit surgery or hormone therapy for transgender troops, as well as programs that "bring discredit upon the military, such as a drag queen story hour for children or the use of drag queens as military recruiters."

It also would ban critical race theory, a term Republicans have applied generally to diversity training. Critical race theory is a discipline taught in graduate school about the intersection of racism and law.

It would also eliminate the deputy inspector general for diversity and inclusion and extremism in the military, a position created in 2020 in a defense policy bill that passed with broad bipartisan support.

And the bill would prohibit funding from being used to pay for travel and leave for service members seeking abortions, effectively blocking the policy the Pentagon unveiled earlier this year in response to female troops worried about access to reproductive health care after last year's Supreme Court decision that allowed states to ban abortion.

The bill fits into a broader pattern of Republicans targeting LGBT, abortion and diversity policies at all levels of government and at private companies. On Tuesday, Appropriations Committee Republicans added similar language to the spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The policy riders are not likely to survive negotiations with the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. House Democrats, too, are blasting the bill as a non-starter, saying the measure "caters to extremist views."

"Fundamentally, these outrageous policy riders are unnecessary for our national security and will undermine the readiness of our military," Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee, said in a statement.

The defense subcommittee is scheduled to debate the bill behind closed doors Thursday.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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