By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; A09
The House passed a pared-down version of the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill on Friday that, at $725 billion, was still $17 billion above the Obama administration's funding request.
The House made one gesture in deference to rising public concern over government spending. It reduced next year's pay increase for military personnel from the 1.9 percent lawmakers approved in the summer to 1.4 percent, the level President Obama proposed earlier this year. Obama announced this month that he would freeze for two years the salaries of all other federal government workers, including civilians working for the Defense Department.
With the Senate version of the defense authorization bill tied up in debate over other issues, the chairmen and ranking Republican members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and their staffs took the unusual step of removing provisions they believed could cause a holdup in either chamber.
The measure, which was approved by a 341 to 48 vote, goes to the Senate, where it can only be brought up for a vote with unanimous consent of all members. A senior Senate aide said Friday that Armed Services Committee members and staffers are trying to answer questions as to why certain provisions were dropped from the measure.
In introducing the bill Friday, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the outgoing chairman of the committee, called it "must-pass legislation."
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), who will be chairman of the House panel in the next Congress, bemoaned the loss of the higher pay raise but called on the Senate to act on the bill.
The bill's authorization of continued growth in Pentagon personnel and health-care costs comes a month after the chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform highlighted potential cuts in defense spending that could reduce the deficit.
They called for freezing non-combat military pay for three years to go along with a similar measure halting increases in compensation for Defense Department civilians.
They also proposed keeping level the basic housing and subsistence allowances paid to military families who live off base. They projected their proposal would save $7.6 billion over the next five years. Without it, these costs would rise $9.2 billion over the same period.