GOP lawmaker pushes Pentagon to change Guard pay policy

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is pushing the Pentagon to undo a policy reducing the amount of paid leave for National Guard members who were already deployed before the policy change was made in October.

Kline says that his bill to grandfather in Guard members who had already been deployed is running out of time, as a group of Minnesota National Guard members affected are set to return home by the end of April.

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While he has the support of Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to include his bill in this year’s Defense authorization bill, Kline said he’s planning to try to make it law quicker by pushing it through the House on suspension. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has introduced legislation in the Senate.

The Minnesota lawmakers say that their state’s Guard troops could lose as many as 27 days of paid leave time due to the policy change, which could affect extra time off for at least 800 Minnesota Guard members stationed in Kuwait.

The Pentagon established the post-deployment paid leave program in question in 2007 to give Guard members extra leave if they had more than 12 months of deployments within a five-year period.

In October, the Pentagon reduced the amount of extra paid leave time from four days a month to one to two days.

Kline told The Hill he doesn’t have a problem with the Pentagon’s policy change, but he objects to it affecting those who had already been expecting the time off when they left.

“To me that’s a breach of promise,” Kline said. “It’s perfectly legitimate for the Pentagon to develop a policy for those who have not yet deployed and change it. It’s not acceptable for them to change the policy once they’ve already deployed troops under a policy.”

Kline says he reached out to the Pentagon and asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the program when Panetta testified at the House Armed Services Committee last month. But he said the Defense Department told him they were not changing their policy, so he's moving forward with his legislation.

A National Guard spokesman said the Guard doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

Kline said he’s discussed his bill with House leadership and hopes to get it on the calendar in the next couple of weeks.