The White House is taking issue with a House Republican proposal to give junior enlisted troops a more than 30% pay bump next year.
The opposition to rewriting the pay scale for E-6s and below was included in a broader statement the White House issued Monday afternoon threatening to veto the House's proposed fiscal 2024 Pentagon spending bill, largely over the administration's objection to "divisive policy provisions" that target abortion rights and LGBTQ+ service members.
"If the president were presented with [the bill], he would veto it," the statement said.
Under the spending bill advanced by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year and scheduled to be voted on by the full House later this week, no service member would make less than the equivalent of $15 per hour for a 40-hour workweek.
For example, the bill would set the monthly base pay for an E-1 with at least four months of service at $2,600.60, compared to the rate now of $1,917.63 per month. An E-6 with less than two years of service could make $3,210 per month under the bill, compared to $2,980.47 per month now.
While the White House said it appreciates lawmakers' "concern for the needs of the nation's most junior enlisted members' compensation," it added that it "strongly opposes" the bill's significant change to the pay scale while the administration is in the midst of its own comprehensive review of military pay.
The 14th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation was launched at the beginning of this year and is expected to wrap by January 2025.
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. At hearings, when lawmakers have asked Pentagon officials about proposals to increase pay for junior enlisted troops, officials have deferred to the quadrennial review.
In addition to pointing to the administration's ongoing review, the White House argued the changes to the pay scale are not fully paid for in the bill. The bill would provide $800 million to cover increased salaries, but the White House said it would cost $4.4 billion in fiscal 2024 and $23.4 billion over five years.
The White House also argued the changes would create "pay compression" in some areas.
"This would remove an important incentive for enlisted members to seek increased responsibilities and earn promotions at the grade of E-6 and higher, harming military readiness," the statement said.
The House's defense spending bill was already unlikely to become law as-is after Republicans included a slew of partisan riders aimed at Pentagon policies that conservatives consider "woke."
The funding bill would, among other provisions, prohibit surgery or hormone therapy for transgender troops and ban funding from being used to pay for travel and leave for service members seeking abortions.
"The administration opposes those provisions that limit access to non-covered reproductive healthcare by servicemembers and their families, impede the ability of all servicemembers to serve to their fullest capacity, and undermine the United States' ability to fight foreign adversary disinformation," the White House statement Monday said. "Including divisive policy provisions within an appropriations bill also dramatically increases the threat of a continuing resolution, which would further damage America's national security."
The jockeying over the bill comes as Congress has just three weeks to reach an agreement to fund the government past this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
If lawmakers cannot at least agree on a stopgap spending measure known as a continuing resolution, then the government would shut down and service members would face having to work without pay until it reopens.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on X @reporterkheel.