Lawmakers have a lot of work to do when they return to Washington Nov. 12 after the mid-term elections, including deciding how big of a pay raise to give military service members next year.
The House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2015 Defense authorization bill differ on the amount of the pay increase: the House-passed legislation tacitly supports a 1.8 percent across-the-board boost for members of the military, while the Senate bill includes a 1 percent raise – the same amount that President Obama has recommended.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its Defense authorization bill in May, and it was placed on the Senate calendar in early June. It’s unclear at this point whether there will be a full debate of the bill, or if the leadership will decide to fast-track a vote. Congress also needs to vote on omnibus appropriations legislation or another continuing resolution before the current one expires on Dec. 11.
The 1.8 percent pay bump for troops is in line with the automatic fiscal 2015 cost-of-living adjustment scheduled for the military; there is not an explicit provision regarding a pay raise in the House legislation, but by staying silent, lawmakers are supporting the amount that would automatically take place under the law.
If the Senate ultimately passes a bill with the 1 percent raise, the two chambers will have to hammer out their differences in conference committee. Military service members received a 1 percent pay boost in 2014.
The formula for determining service members’ annual pay increase is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index and the growth in private-sector wages. But under the law (Title 37, Chapter 19, Section 1009) the president has the authority to set an alternate pay raise for military personnel, citing a national emergency or fiscal concerns, if Congress doesn’t pass legislation adjusting the amount or canceling it. The 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act allows the president through executive order to set a pay raise for federal civilian employees under the same circumstances.
Federal civilian employees are on track to receive a 1 percent raise in 2015. That’s the amount Obama has recommended, and Congress is not likely to alter that at this point.