Money for 19.5% Pay Hike for Junior Enlisted Troops Included in House's Defense Spending Bill

Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin
Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, shakes hand with committee chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., during a House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Defense budget hearing on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Washington. (AP Photo/John McDonnell)

Funding to support a 19.5% pay raise for junior enlisted troops is included in the House's initial version of the annual Pentagon spending bill that was released Tuesday.

If enacted into law as is, the House Appropriations Committee's version of the fiscal 2025 Pentagon spending bill would give the department the money to cover the massive boost in basic pay for the military's lowest-ranking troops that House lawmakers are on track to authorize in a separate defense policy bill.

But several other politically contentious provisions of the GOP-drafted bill are already eliciting fierce pushback from congressional Democrats, and it's unclear where the Senate will land on pay raises for junior troops, injecting uncertainty into what the final outcome of the spending bill will be.

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After months of study of military quality-of-life issues by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers, the House Armed Services Committee included in its version of the policy bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, an extra 15% raise for paygrades E-1 through E-4 on top of the 4.5% raise that service members of all ranks are set to get next year.

To pay for the NDAA's extra 15% hike for junior troops, the appropriations bill released Tuesday would inject $2.5 billion into military personnel accounts, according to a summary released by Appropriations Committee Republicans. The bill also provides the funding needed for a 4.5% raise for all troops, the summary added.

    "This bill supports the true difference makers and our best national security assets -- our men and women in uniform and their families -- with a pay raise, including one specifically for our junior enlisted service members," House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said in a statement.

    While the idea of a major pay raise for junior enlisted troops has garnered bipartisan support, the spending bill includes an array of partisan policy riders that are drawing Democratic opposition.

    Among them are prohibitions on gender-affirmation surgery and hormone therapy for transgender troops and coverage of travel and leave for service members seeking abortions.

    Those provisions were also included in the House Appropriations Committee's initial version of the fiscal 2024 Pentagon spending bill, but were cut from the final version of the bill that became law after negotiations with the Senate. The thorny policy debates contributed to the bill being passed nearly six months after the fiscal year started in October.

    "Instead of building on the bipartisan conclusion to the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations process, the Fiscal Year 2025 Defense Appropriations bill includes the same outrageous policy riders that were rejected by Congress only two months ago," Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee's defense subpanel, said in a statement Tuesday. "Our service members and their families deserve better than a bill that caters to MAGA extremists over the readiness of our national defense."

    Republicans are also touting that the bill would redirect $18 billion in "unjustified and unnecessary items" from the administration's budget request toward "programs and activities that counter the People's Republic of China and other near-peer adversaries, foster innovation, enhance the DoD's role in combating the flow of fentanyl and other illegal drugs, and support service members and their families." It's unclear where all $18 billion comes from, but the Republican summary highlights $621 million slashed from climate change initiatives and $53 million from diversity and inclusion programs.

    "Every dollar counts within the top-line limitation imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act," Calvert said in his statement, referring to budget caps approved by Congress last year. "Therefore, this bill withholds funds from initiatives and programs that are wasteful, inefficient or do not contribute directly to our national security."

    Democrats are calling out another major omission: The bill includes no money for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

    The program was created in 2014 to fund training and weapons contracts for Ukrainian forces after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and Congress has provided funding every year since. This year, the administration requested $300 million for the initiative, intended to provide long-term support separate from the billions of dollars in emergency funding Congress has approved to support immediate needs in Ukraine's fight for survival against Russia.

    But a vocal minority of Republicans is fiercely opposed to any funding for Ukraine and has tried to depose House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., over the issue. Still, Ukraine aid continues to garner support from bipartisan majorities, as demonstrated when Congress overwhelmingly approved a bill that included $60 billion in Ukraine aid in April.

    The House Appropriations Committee's defense subpanel is scheduled to debate the spending bill Wednesday, followed by the full committee next week.

    Related: 19.5% Pay Raise for Junior Enlisted Troops Approved by House Panel

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