Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
DISAGREEMENT ON MILITARY PAY RAISES
“The cost of military personnel, including pay and compensation, non-cash and deferred benefits, and health care continues to rise at disturbing rates,” said the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee at a hearing last week.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., also said that since 2001, military pay and benefits have grown more than 57 percent – from $109 billion to $170 billion, using dollars that do not include inflation’s effects – so that today these accounts take up 30 percent of the budget.
Military pay was the subject of the hearing. Witnesses from the Defense Department, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Rand Corporation told the lawmakers that across-the-board pay raises are not the most cost-effective way to maintain recruiting and retention.
President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2011 requested a 1.4 percent increase in military pay, just enough to keep pace with private-sector salary growth. However, if history is a guide, Congress will up the increase a half a percentage point, making it a 1.9 percent pay increase. According to the CBO’s witness, Carla Tighe Murray, that will add $2.39 billion more than planned over the next five years.
For the past 12 years, Congress has directed that the military’s base pay be larger than comparable civilian pay. Their direction is in response to the problems with recruiting and retention in the late 1990s when years of pay raise caps had caused military pay to lag behind private-sector wages by 13.5 percent.
The GAO witness, Brenda Farrell, said that keeping recruitment and retention levels high can be done less expensively by targeting special payments, incentives and bonuses to those jobs the Pentagon needs the most, such as special-operations forces, medical staff and explosive experts.
William Carr, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy agreed and said that the half a percentage point raise would give an E-4 with four years of service $11 more a month before taxes while an officer with six years of service would get $22 more a month. The same amount of money, if spent on re-enlistment bonuses, could pay for $30,000 in bonuses for 11,000 people with specialized skills or for training to get them to stay in the military.
However, as Ms. Murray noted, “Unlike pay raises, bonuses do not compound from year to year and bonuses do not affect retirement pay and other elements of compensation.”
Members of the House Armed Services Committee appear ready to endorse the higher pay raise. However, their counterparts in the Senate have not signaled their intent. While Sen. Webb said he wants to increase military pay levels, he is not sure by how much or how much might come in special pay and bonuses, rather than an across-the-board increase above the President’s request.
AUSA believes that at a time when we ask so much of our service members and their families, giving them the smallest raise in nearly 50 years sends the wrong message. Our 2010 Resolutions state, “Sustaining and growing an All-Volunteer Force demands military compensation and benefits that are commensurate with their contributions to national defense. We appreciate the continued support of Congress and the Administration; however, much work remains to improve military compensation. Therefore, Congress must support Soldier pay raises that continue to close the gap with the private sector and benefits improvements that enhance quality of life.” We will continue to press Congress for the increased pay raise.
(For more information on comparisons between military and civilian compensation, read the GAO’s written testimony to the Subcommittee. Go to http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10666t.pdf.)
EVERYTHING IS ON THE TABLE
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform held its first meeting in Washington, D.C. last week. The bipartisan panel, established by a White House Executive Order, is charged with finding solutions to rein in the country’s federal debt and will scrutinize all government spending – to include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal/military retirement, and other defense and veteran programs.
President Obama opened the meeting stating that "everything has to be on the table" in terms of trimming the federal deficit.
The next meeting of the group will be on May 26. In between, working groups on mandatory spending, discretionary spending and revenue reform will meet every Wednesday. To report out a recommendation, the Commission will need 14 out of 18 votes, ensuring that any report will have bipartisan support. The Commission will issue its recommendations by December 1, 2010. Leaders of both the Senate and the House have assured the President that they will bring these recommendations to a vote before the end of the current Congress.
AUSA will monitor the Commission and report on any significant developments that would affect our members.
HEALTH CARE ISSUES BRIEFED TO RETIREE COUNCIL
Last week, AUSA Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper, along with other members of the Military Coalition briefed the Chief of Staff of the Army's (CSA) Retiree Council on the Coalition's legislative agenda.
Loper's focus was on health care. He provided the Coalition's position on such issues as TRICARE fees, Medicare TRICARE provider payments, pretax payment of health insurance premiums, improving access to health care providers, and health care coverage for gray area RC retirees. Health care remains a top concern of military retirees.
The CSA Retiree Council is made up of seven retired officers and seven retired enlisted Soldiers and is co-chaired by a retired general officer and a retired senior NCO. The CSA’s Retiree Council reinforces the connection between the Army and retired Soldiers and surviving spouses. The council serves as a formal venue for voicing concerns to Army leaders.