Military pay and benefits have been a hot topic this fall; from the zero increase in military retiree and veteran cost of living adjustments to the proposed reductions in future military base pay raises, there are plenty of issues for Servicemembers and military retirees to focus on.
As earlier reported in this blog, the Senate left on recess without passing the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. The NDAA 2011 (H.R. 5136) includes a House proposal for a 1.9 percent across-the-board increase in military base pay, in addition to extensions that would continue paying certain types of special pay and allowances. According to many reports, the Senate is leaning toward reducing the House’s proposed pay increase by .5 percent to 1.4 percent, which would match the White House’s proposal.
Earlier this summer we reported that two separate DoD advisory panels had recommended reducing the DoD’s personnel budget by limiting the size of pay raises and cutting retiree benefits. The panel's reports are being debated this fall as Congress and Defense Department officials look for ways to reduce the deficit in a lagging economy. Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel subcommittee, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), has suggested that cutting the number of troops would be a better way to reduce the cost of military personnel.
Webb has indicated he supports ending the 12-year trend of large across-the-board increases in military base pay and suggests a “more efficient” system of targeted bonuses for lower ranking Servicemembers - including those serving in combat and/or hard-to-fill occupational specialties.
The annual across-the-board raises of the past 12 years were mandated by law to ensure that military pay reached and maintained parity with the civilian sector, as determined by the annual Employment Cost Index. Until 2006 the law required that base pay increase at a rate equal to the ECI plus .5 percent. Having reached parity in 2006, the law has been changed to maintain the balance by tying military pay to the ECI - Congress does have the option to pay above the ECI.
Some DoD officials and members of Congress have suggested that military pay and benefits now exceed the private sector. Congress is fully aware that these suggestions are not well received by Servicemembers or retirees and that cutting or reducing pay raises and military benefits could cost them in the polls — especially while our troops are still engaged in war. That is likely why Sen. Webb advocates cutting troops and instituting targeted bonuses rather than cutting pay and benefits.