A renewed push for "pay parity" began yesterday on Capitol Hill.

Letters supporting equal pay raises for the military and the civil service were sent to House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), the ranking Democrat on the budget panel, and President Bush. The president's budget, sent to Congress earlier this month, would give a 2 percent pay raise to federal employees and an average 4.1 percent raise to military personnel in 2004.

A bipartisan group of Washington area lawmakers urged Nussle to support parity in the pay adjustments in the House's fiscal 2004 budget resolution, which helps set spending policy. In a separate letter, several House Democrats asked Bush to reconsider his plan for 2004 pay raises and provide the civil service with the same increase as the military.

The letter to Nussle called for continuing "the tradition of pay parity," which it described as "more important than ever" because of the war against terrorism, involving the departments of Defense, State, Justice and Homeland Security.

In the letter to Bush, the Democrats said that for 15 of the last 17 years, the pay adjustments for military personnel and civil service employees have been the same.

"Civilian employees are on the front lines protecting our freedoms here at home," the lawmakers wrote. "We believe anything less than the 4.1 percent pay adjustment proposed for military employees in 2004 sends the regrettable message that the services they provide to America every day are not highly valued."

The letter to Nussle was organized by House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). Among those signing it were Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

Hoyer organized the letter by Democrats to Bush, and it included signatures from Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), Danny K. Davis (Ill.), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), Moran, Van Hollen, Wynn and Norton.

In recent years, the debate over the federal pay raise has started in the House Budget Committee. Last year, Moran attached a provision that called for a pay parity raise this year. Moran's provision helped Hoyer and others push for parity in the 2003 spending bill recently signed by Bush.

White House budget officials said the proposed 2 percent pay raise next year was appropriate given overall budget constraints and relatively low inflation rates. Bush's budget also provides for a $500 million "performance fund" that would permit agencies to boost the pay of their best workers.

Pay parity has emerged on Capitol Hill as a way to handle raises because of the difficulty in setting compensation for the military and the civil service.

For years, the military looked to the civil service to set the pace on pay, in part because a 1990 law provided locality pay to federal employees to help them catch up with private-sector salaries. But the law has not been fully implemented, and Bush last year recommended a freeze on such pay for 2004.

Congress, worried that the military would not be able to compete against industry when hiring, changed the pay formula for the military in 2000. Through 2006, the military's annual pay raises are supposed to be a half percentage point above average private-sector wage increases. As a result, the military now sets the pace on pay for most of the civil service.

For 2004, Bush's proposal for military raises would provide higher raises in some enlisted grades to help improve retention. The 2004 military raise would range from 2 percent to 6.25 percent, with the majority of the armed forces receiving an increase of at least 3.7 percent.

Talk Shows

Richard J. Gallo, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

Cari M. Dominguez, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 8 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"HIV and AIDS in the Federal Workplace" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is

barrs@washpost.com.