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Lawmakers reject cuts in personnel funding

Aug. 6, 2013 - 10:10AM   |  
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The House of Representatives is continuing to ignore Obama administration pleas to cut military personnel spending.

The $598.8 billion defense appropriations bill for 2014 passed by the House on July 25 includes a 1.8 percent military pay raise that the administration says is too generous, as well as a ban on enrollment fees on Tricare for Life health coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees.

The bill, HR 2397, also would increase the defense health budget by $519 million, a move required to offset savings assumed in the Pentagon budget from imposing new and higher Tricare fees for working-age retirees and some pharmacy co-pay increases.

In a July 22 statement of administration policy, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget faults Congress for rejecting cost-saving ideas.

“The administration is disappointed that the committee has consistently failed to support requested Tricare fee initiatives that seek to control DoD’s spiraling health care costs while keeping retired beneficiaries’ share of these costs well below levels experienced when the Tricare program was implemented in the mid-1990s,” the policy statement says.

Repeating a warning made earlier this year when the House passed a defense policy bill that also rejected the Tricare fee hikes, the policy statement says the Pentagon “will be forced to make deeper reductions to troop levels, readiness and modernization accounts” if the military doesn’t get the estimated $8 billion in savings over five years estimated to come from the proposals rejected to date.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, said he does not think Congress will ever approve significant Tricare fee hikes, especially not the current Pentagon proposals that would index fees to retirement income.

“Commitments were made to military people about their benefits, and we are not going to break those commitments,” he said. “I don’t see any circumstance where I would support” DoD’s requests.

The White House complains that the 1.8 percent military pay raise is too generous.

A Jan. 1 military pay raise of 1 percent was requested by the Obama administration, which the policy statement notes is supported by “the uniformed military leadership.” The 1.8 percent raise included in the appropriations bill, which would match last year’s average private-sector wage growth, will cost $580 million more in 2014 than the smaller raise, and $3.5 billion more over five years.

The bill provides $129.6 billion for direct military personnel costs, which includes pay, allowances and permanent change-of-station moves, $751 million less than DoD requested.

Most of the reduction results from the services spending less than expected this year.

The Navy faces the biggest cut, $153 million off its $27.8 billion request. The Air Force’s $28.5 billion request was cut by $137 million; the Army’s $41 billion request was cut by $129 million; and the Marine Corps’ $12.9 billion request was cut by $82 million.

The biggest single source of cuts is travel-related money, accounting for $162 million of the active-duty savings. The bill also shaves $93 million from funding for special pays and $53 million from funding for housing allowances.

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