Under a plan being developed for 2014, new recruits will spend the last week of their basic military training in a classroom learning about sexual assault prevention, suicide prevention, PTSD and other Air Force cultural issues. (Senior Airman Marleah Miller/Air Force)
Only a last-minute decision by Congress will give service members anything more than a 1 percent across-the-board pay increase on Jan. 1.
If Congress does nothing, troops are due a 1 percent increase under a presidential order signed in August, which is the same raise scheduled for federal civilians.
Congress has endorsed a 1 percent raise in January for federal civilians, which would end a three-year freeze on their pay scales, and the government funding bill that was hastily passed late on Oct. 16 includes funding for pay raises. The measure includes a clause preventing members of Congress from receiving the pay hike.
In June, the House of Representatives approved a 1.8 percent military raise as part of its version of the 2014 defense authorization bill. The slightly larger raise would match average private-sector wage growth last year, following a formula set in permanent law to prevent erosion in the value of military pay.
The Senate has not yet passed its version of the annual defense policy bill, but the Senate Armed Services Committee sided with the Defense Department and Obama administration in approving a 1 percent increase.
The difference between the two raises next year would be about $350 for an E-5 with six years and about $625 for an O-4 with 10 years.
President Obama and White House budget officials have objected to the larger House-passed raise. In an executive order, Obama said he is "strongly committed to supporting our uniformed service members, who have made such great contributions to our nation over the past decade of war."
But, he added, the U.S. is recovering "from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare," which requires efforts to stay "on a sustainable fiscal course."
The White House Office of Management and Budget, in opposing the House pay raise provision, said the higher increase would add $600 million to the 2014 defense budget and $3.5 billion to defense costs over five years.
If not offset by cuts in other defense programs, this added expense would force deeper reductions in personnel levels, readiness and modernization programs, according to a policy statement.
Senate floor debate on that chamber's version of the defense policy bill has been delayed by a series of other more pressing issues, including the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis that took several weeks to resolve.
Senate aides said it appears unlikely that the full Senate would vote to increase the 1 percent raise, so the final decision would be made in negotiations between the House and Senate armed services committees over final details.
That may not happen before late December, leaving little time before the military pay raise would be scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1. The amount of the raise could be changed after Jan. 1 through retroactive payments of the difference, a practice that has been used when the annual defense bill has not been enacted by the start of the calendar year.