WASHINGTON – Congress wants a 3.9 percent pay raise for troops next year — more than President Bush wants but in synch with a broader election-year effort by lawmakers to boost benefits for service members and veterans.
The House Armed Services Committee was on track Wednesday to approve the pay raise as part of a larger policy bill that would authorize more than a half trillion in annual defense spending, as well as combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation also would restrict U.S. reconstruction spending in Iraq unless Baghdad spends more of its own money, although the bill would allow Bush to waive the requirement.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has proposed a similar measure, including the 3.9 percent pay increase — all but guaranteeing the pay provision will be included in the final bill and sent to Bush for his signature this summer. The Senate panel also voted to restrict reconstruction dollars, but did not include a waiver.
The legislation would cover the 2009 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. The proposed increase would be a half percent more than Bush requested.
Last year, Congress approved a 3.5 percent raise for troops, which took effect in January. The White House opposed the increase because it said it would cost more than $2 billion if maintained for five years. But Bush nevertheless signed the bill into law in January.
The 2009 pay raise is part of a broader effort under way in Congress to increase benefits for service members and veterans. Democrats are pushing separate legislation that would substantially boost college aid for veterans by essentially guaranteeing a full-ride scholarship to a public in-state university after serving in the military for three years.
The House Armed Services Committee also was on track to prohibit Bush's proposed increase in military health care fees and create a tuition assistance program for military spouses.
On reconstruction spending, the House bill would require that Iraqis pay $1 for every $2 spent by the U.S. through the Commanders Emergency Response Program, a military-led effort that pays for urgent local projects. However, the bill would allow Bush to waive the restriction if there was a national security interest to do so.
Other provisions proposed in the House bill would:
— Cut $232 million from the president's request for missile defense research and $140 million for construction of radars in Eastern Europe.
— Cut $200 million from the $3.6 billion requested for the Army's Future Combat System.
— Add $2.6 billion for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, $947 million for up-armored humvees and $3.9 billion for an additional 15 C-17 Globemaster aircraft.