White House 'Strongly Opposes' Proposed 19.5% Pay Hike for Junior Enlisted Troops

Clerk checks for the micro-security measures on a hundred dollar bill
A pay clerk with the Disbursing Section for the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit checks for the micro-security measures on a hundred dollar bill before accepting it as payment toward a Navy Cash Card during PHIBRON-MEU Integration Training Exercise, Sept. 24, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Paris Capers)

The White House is opposing a congressional proposal to give junior enlisted service members their biggest pay raise in a generation.

In a statement Tuesday about its position on the House's version of the annual must-pass defense policy bill, the White House budget office suggested a plan to give low-ranking troops a 19.5% boost in basic pay next year is too costly and premature amid the Biden administration's ongoing review of military compensation.

"The administration is strongly committed to taking care of our service members and their families, and appreciates the [House Armed Services Committee's] concern for the needs of the most junior enlisted members, but strongly opposes making a significant, permanent change to the basic pay schedule before the completion of the Fourteenth Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation," the White House said in its statement.

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While the White House also raised several other issues with the House bill, the Biden administration in general "strongly supports enactment of a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for a 64th consecutive year," the statement said.

The House's version of this year's NDAA, which the full chamber is expected to approve later this week, would give all service members a 4.5% pay raise next year, as requested by the administration.

    But it would also give E-1s through E-4s a 15% raise on top of that, for a total 19.5% pay hike next year for those junior troops.

    The House Armed Services Committee decided to give junior enlisted members a major pay increase after months of study of military quality-of-life issues by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers found that military pay has not kept pace with inflation or the private sector.

    Meanwhile, the administration has been conducting its own study, called the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year or early next year.

    While Tuesday's statement from the White House suggested Congress should wait until the administration's review is done to make any significant changes to military pay, the senior enlisted leaders for all the military services earlier this year urged lawmakers to act immediately to boost service members' pay.

    Additionally, a House Armed Services Committee staffer told reporters last month that a 15% raise for junior enlisted service members is among the options the administration's review is considering.

    The White House's statement Tuesday cited cost as a concern with the House's plan. A Congressional Budget Office analysis released Monday estimated the increase in pay for junior enlisted troops would cost $24.4 billion from 2025 to 2029.

    The administration also argued that service members have already received significant raises in recent years, citing the 5.2% troops got this year and the 4.6% increase last year.

    "If the president's FY 2025 request is enacted, service members will have received a 15% basic pay increase in just three years," the statement said, though it would actually add up to 14.3%.

    Despite the White House opposition, Armed Services Committee leaders in both parties still strongly backed the pay boost Tuesday.

    "One of the big aspects of this is a 19.5% pay increase for junior enlisted," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member of the committee, said at a House Rules Committee meeting about the NDAA. "That's where we really have the problem. Many of our junior enlisteds are struggling to afford housing as housing costs have gone up. Their pay has not kept pace. This is a bold step to try to make sure that we support them, which incidentally will also help with recruitment and retention."

    The Senate has not yet revealed its plans for next year's military raise. The House and Senate must negotiate their respective bills before the final legislation can reach President Joe Biden's desk.

    Outside the junior enlisted pay raise, other issues the White House said it has with the House bill include a provision that would end marijuana testing as a condition for enlisting or commissioning into the military.

    "The administration appreciates Congress' desire to increase the available military accessions pool," the statement said. But "the use of marijuana by service members is a military readiness and safety concern."

    The administration also took issue with the anti-diversity measures in the bill, including one that would ban affirmative action at military academies and make admissions dependent on a numerical score of "merit" based largely on standardized test scores.

    "The academies currently use a range of factors to measure character, work ethic and leadership," the White House said. "Excluding these time-tested measures of performance would harm the academies' consideration of enlisted applicants, children of deceased and disabled veterans, recruited athletes, and non-traditional students such as those who are virtually educated or home-schooled, or who have studied abroad."

    While a few anti-diversity measures made it into the bill during the House Armed Services Committee's consideration of it last month, the NDAA so far has not become the culture war battleground that it turned into last year.

    But dozens more anti-diversity amendments have been proposed for this week's floor debate on the bill, as well as ones to restrict transgender health care and abortion access. The House Rules Committee was meeting Tuesday afternoon to decide which amendments would get floor votes this week.

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

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