Democratic Senators Push for Military Pay Increase That Exceeds Bush's Proposal

By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ten Democratic senators are urging the Senate Budget Committee to provide military personnel with a 2007 pay raise higher than the 2.2 percent increase proposed by the president.

The senators, in a letter organized by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), call President Bush 's pay proposal "a paltry increase" that "neglects the value of their service and the very real challenges of recruiting and retaining an all-volunteer military in time of war."

The proposal in the president's fiscal 2007 budget, if enacted, would be the smallest pay raise for the military since 1994, the letter said.

"Our troops are sacrificing so much, in every corner of the world. Shortchanging them and the families who love them is a lousy way to say thanks," Kerry said in a statement. He pledged "to fight for a fair military pay raise until it becomes a reality."

The senators did not propose a specific pay increase for the armed forces next year but urged the Budget Committee to support "a pay increase that meets the needs" of military personnel.

Defense Department officials, in budget briefings this month, said the proposed raise is based on the growth in private-sector wages as measured by the Labor Department's Employment Cost Index. Because of the lengthy federal budget process, there is usually a 15-month lag between the labor-market snapshot taken by the index and the effective date of the pay raise.

Pentagon officials also pointed out that the military has received substantial raises in recent years. Tina W. Jonas , the defense comptroller, estimated the increase in military pay to be 29 percent since 2001.

Part of that increase was driven by concerns in Congress that soldiers, sailors and others were struggling to make ends meet and by reports that some military families were eligible for food stamps. Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that average pay increases to military service members exceeded average wage increases for all private-sector employees from fiscal 2000 to 2004.

Advocates for higher pay dismiss such comparisons and point to the sacrifices made by military families, especially in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The senators, in their letter, emphasized that "the men and women of the American military are doing everything we ask of them -- and more. They are being deployed at historic rates, many serving on their second, third, or even fourth combat deployments."

The Democratic senators sent their request to Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the Budget Committee chairman, and Kent Conrad (N.D.), the ranking Democrat on the committee.

In addition to Kerry, the letter was signed by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)

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