Senators receptive to changes in military benefits

Senators on the Armed Services Committee are open to the recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel that called for reforming military pay and compensation, suggesting that the proposals could be adopted in next year's defense budget.

"I think they're good," said committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDOJ: Arizona recount could violate civil rights laws Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Conservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE (R-Ariz.) after hearing testimony on the recommendations Wednesday.

"It was a good performance by the commissioners. They pointed out they're doing it not to save money. If people accept that, then we've got a good chance," he said.

The commission was appointed by Congress in 2013 to look at the thorny issue of reforming military pay and benefits.

The Pentagon has recommended cutting compensation, citing growing costs at a time of shrinking defense budgets.

But Congress has largely rejected those cuts after military advocacy groups lobbied hard against them.


The Pentagon again recommended trimming benefits in its fiscal 2016 budget, including raising healthcare insurance fees, slowing pay raises and cutting support for military grocery stores.

The commission, meanwhile, released 15 recommendations last week for changing how military members are compensated in terms of retirement pay and other benefits including healthcare, child care and unemployment.

The most dramatic recommendations were to overhaul the current retirement system, which benefits troops who have served for a minimum of 20 years, and to move retirees, dependents and reservists from the military's health insurance program, Tricare, to commercial insurers.

Senators said they particularly liked the recommendations on retirement benefits, which would allow troops who served fewer than 20 years to walk away with some benefits instead of nothing.

"I think it represents a very innovative and very promising approach ... people will do better under this system," said Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (R.I.), the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Both men said Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won MORE (R-S.C.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAustin tight lipped on whether to take sexual assault cases out of commanders' hands Gillibrand touts legislation to lower drug costs: This idea 'is deeply bipartisan' A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman and ranking member on the Armed Services subcommittee on personnel, would hold extensive hearings on the recommendations.

The commission's chairman, Alphonso Maldon Jr., said so far, lawmakers have given the recommendations a warm reception.

"They believe there are some really good benefits there, both the savings side of it, as well as providing additional benefits for the service member, and protecting the benefits that service members have," he told The Hill.

"So far people seem to be pretty happy about that," he said.