House panel supports bigger raise than requested for military

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

Lawmakers disregarded Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's calls for fiscal restraint Wednesday, approving a military pay raise higher than President Obama and the Pentagon requested.

The House Armed Services personnel subcommittee approved a 1.9 percent pay bump for uniformed military personnel, half of a percentage point higher than suggested in Obama's fiscal 2011 budget. The markup also increased hostile-fire pay and family separation allowances.

"This raise will further reduce the gap between military and private-sector pay raises," said subcommittee chairman Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.).

But the raise is in direct disagreement with the wishes of Gates, who plans to push for at least $15 billion in cuts from the Pentagon's budget, mostly from contracts and administrative redundancies.

Speaking Saturday in Kansas, the secretary raised particular concern with military personnel costs, saying that health-care expenses totaling about $50 billion "are eating the Defense Department alive." The sum roughly equals the State Department's entire foreign affairs and assistance budget, Gates said.

Davis said she's open to working with Gates on his cost concerns but kept the proposed pay raise intact.

The military pay bump means civilian federal workers could see a similar raise next year. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) vowed to secure pay parity for service members and civilian workers this year after the military received a larger pay raise in last year's budget.

"Like their military counterparts, civilian federal employees have made significant contributions to help our country respond to the challenges we face both domestically and abroad, and I believe their pay adjustments should reflect that," Hoyer said in December.

The House subcommittee handles military personnel issues, including the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from openly serving in the military.

Davis and other panel members support repealing the policy, but Wednesday's markup did not include language to lift the ban.

Other lawmakers are expected to bypass the Armed Services Committee and introduce an amendment to end the policy when the authorization bill is considered by the full House. Any vote on repealing the policy goes against the wishes of Gates, who wants Congress to hold off until after the Pentagon completes a military-wide study of how it would implement the change.

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