5.5% vs. 19.5% Pay Raise: Senate Diverges from House on How Much to Boost Junior Enlisted Paychecks

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Major General Johnny K. Davis and Rear Admiral Alexis T. Walker
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks with Major General Johnny K. Davis, USA, Commanding General, United States Army Recruiting Command and Rear Admiral Alexis T. Walker, USN, Commander, Navy Recruiting Command during the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel hearing to examine the status of Department of Defense recruiting efforts and plans for fiscal year 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Junior troops would see a 5.5% pay bump under a Senate plan unveiled Wednesday, setting up a clash with a House proposal to give enlisted members a significantly larger salary boost.

Under the Senate Armed Services Committee's draft of the annual defense policy bill, service members of all ranks would get a 4.5% pay raise next year. Troops in the paygrades of E-1 through E-3 would get an extra 1% on top of that, for a total 5.5% raise.

With the Senate's more modest proposal and the White House's objection to any targeted boost to junior enlisted pay before an administration study on military compensation is finished, the fate of the House plan to give E-1s through E-4s a 19.5% pay hike next year is growing shaky.

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While senators did not go as far as the House in their initial version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the Senate proposal nods to growing concerns that pay for junior enlisted troops has not kept pace with the economy. Senators argued that budget caps approved by Congress last year prevented them from proposing a higher raise for junior enlisted personnel.

"We've done everything we can to put as much money into pay raises for our active-duty military and particularly for the E-1s through E-3s, the lowest paid," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who chairs the Armed Services Committee's personnel subpanel, told reporters Wednesday after her subcommittee approved its portion of the NDAA. "But it's still not enough. I'd like to see more money for our active-duty military and for our civilian workforce that supports our defense effort. But right now, we have to stay under those budget caps that were negotiated in 2023 that the Republicans insisted on."

Under both the House and Senate plans, all service members are on track to get at least a 4.5% raise next year, which matches what the Biden administration requested and what a federal formula for annual military pay raises says troops are entitled to.

But in the House, after months of study of military quality-of-life issues by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers, members are pushing for a 15% boost for junior enlisted troops on top of the across-the-board raise, for a total 19.5% increase.

Asked how senators arrived at 5.5%, Warren said, "We squeezed as many dollars from every place else in the DoD budget that we possibly could."

The House and Senate will need to negotiate a compromise version of their respective bills before this year's NDAA can become law.

Senators will also have an opportunity to make changes to the NDAA when the full Senate Armed Services Committee meets behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon and Thursday to debate the bill.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has said he plans to propose adding $55 billion to the defense budget during the committee's debate, though he has focused on the defense industrial base and military hardware over personnel funding.

Still, asked about budget caps constraining the pay raise proposal, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., the ranking member of the personnel subcommittee, noted that he expects votes on increasing the defense budget during the full committee debate.

"The question will be where you do allocate those dollars," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the White House said Tuesday that it "strongly opposes making a significant, permanent change to the basic pay schedule" before the end of its own military compensation review, which is expected to be complete by the end of the year or early next year.

The White House also cited cost concerns with the House's proposal. A Congressional Budget Office analysis released Monday estimated the increase in pay for junior enlisted troops would cost $24.4 billion from 2025 to 2029.

The White House's Tuesday statement has sparked a cascade of criticism from House Republicans. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who chaired the military quality-of-life panel, called the White House position "outrageous," while House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said it was "offensive and wrong."

"Too many military families are relying on food banks, SNAP and WIC in order to put food on the table," Rogers said in a statement, using acronyms for government food assistance programs. "Republicans and Democrats on our committee agreed this is unacceptable."

Related: White House 'Strongly Opposes' Proposed 19.5% Pay Hike for Junior Enlisted Troops

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