Budget fight threatens military pay raises

Budget fight threatens military pay raises
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Democrats and Republicans are locked in a budget fight that could keep the military from receiving expected pay raises next year.

Without an agreement on spending issues before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, Congress would likely need to pass a short-term spending measure to avert a shutdown. But that would hold military pay raises at 2015 levels, denying servicemembers higher salaries that lawmakers back.

The fight intensified on Thursday when Senate Democrats blocked consideration of a 2016 defense spending bill.

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Democrats and the White House oppose the measure because it provides extra money to a Pentagon war fund, allowing the Defense Department to circumvent budget caps that remain in place for non-defense spending. They have vowed to block all 12 annual government spending bills in the upper chamber unless Republicans sit down for talks on lifting spending caps across the board.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) has rejected those calls and suggested he would bring the defense bill back up.

But with all but one Democrat voting to block consideration, it's unclear whether the outcome will be any different, and both sides are digging in.

House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE (R-Ohio) characterized Democrats as wanting to block military pay raises in a video message shortly before Thursday's Senate vote.

"We live in a dangerous world, and whatever our troops need, they should get. And they ought to get a raise too," said BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerIs Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader MORE. "Our troops come first. Save the politics for another day.”

But Democrats hit back, citing the Pentagon war fund.

“Funding the base operations of the Department of Defense through an accounting gimmick is no way to support the service members and their families who sacrifice so much for our nation’s defense,” said Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyHere are the Senate Democrats backing a Trump impeachment inquiry over Ukraine call Ex-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate MORE (D-Pa.) in a statement after the vote. 

The defense bill is the first of 12 spending bills that have to be passed by October 1st, with fewer than 45 scheduled workdays in the Senate before the new fiscal year.

If there's no movement by Oct. 1, Congress must pass a continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown. And if the continuing resolution is still in effect on January 1, when military pay raises are slated to kick in, troops won't get the higher salaries.

The House defense spending bill raises military pay by 2.3 percent, while the Senate authorizes a 1.3 percent raise. The White House has also requested 1.3 percent.

However, under a continuing resolution, the military would only receive the current 1.0 percent pay raise for most troops.

Lawmakers, though, could pass a spending bill that makes those pay raises retroactive.

Military pay was also an issue during the last government shutdown in 2013, with Congress passing the "Pay Our Military Act" to ensure troops received their salaries.

Defense budget experts are not optimistic lawmakers will reach a deal lifting caps as Democrats seek in time.

“For now, there is little prospect of passing an appropriations bill that repairs the extensive damage done to the U.S. military by the Budget Control Act and sequestration,” said Foreign Policy Initiative’s policy director David Adesnik in a piece Friday. 

For now, both sides are standing firm and the war of words is intensifying.

“Our troops face enough challenges without Congress manufacturing new ones,” added Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington Fury over Trump Syria decision grows MORE (D-R.I.), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

“The Republican leadership is steering… the appropriations process toward another fiscal cliff that leads to another omnibus or continuing resolution." 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) countered that he hoped "Senate Democrats do the right thing and carefully consider the Defense funding bill," in a statement Friday. 

"Holding defense hostage to extract more funding for other agencies like the IRS and EPA is the height of irresponsibility. Our troops and the country deserve better," he said. 

Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Ind.), the lone Democrat to vote for taking up the defense spending bill on Thursday highlighted the difficult politics.

In a statement after the vote, he said he disagreed with keeping caps on non-defense spending. "I also recognize that supporting our troops and their families goes beyond the Pentagon’s budget," he said. 

“It is my hope that in the coming months, members on both sides of the aisle can come together and begin the hard work of negotiating a bipartisan budget that reflects all of our country’s needs," Donnelly said.