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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 16, 2007

3.5% raise too much for Bush

By Tom Philpott

Talk about lousy timing. With President Bush's popularity scraping bottom in opinion polls, with U.S. casualties rising in Iraq in a force surge that has stretched tours to 15 months, the Bush administration has said it "strongly opposes" key military pay and benefit gains tossed into the fiscal 2008 defense bill.

Initiatives the administration opposes include:

  • A military pay raise for next January of 3.5 percent versus 3 percent endorsed by the White House.

  • Lowering the age-60 start of reserve retirement annuities for reserve component members by the length of their future mobilizations.

  • Expanding eligibility for Combat-Related Special Compensation to service members forced by combat disabilities to retire short of 20 years.

  • Directing pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide the Department of Defense with same-price discounts for Tricare retail pharmacy network that are provided on medicines dispensed from base pharmacies.

    The administration also grumbled that the Senate intends to block for another year Tricare fee increases for under-65 retirees and dependents.

    The objections appear in a "Statement of Administration Policy" from the White House's Office of Management and Budget delivered to Senate leaders as they opened floor debate on the defense authorization bill.

    A day later, Senate Republicans, at White House urging, blocked amendments that would have shortened Iraq tours for U.S. ground forces and slowed the frequency of war deployments.

    Here is more on provisions the White House opposes:

    Pay raise: Like the House, senators favor a 3.5 percent military pay raise for 2008 versus the administration's proposed 3 percent to match private sector wage growth as measured by the government's Employment Cost Index or ECI. The White House calls the extra half percentage point unnecessary and notes that basic pay has jumped by 33 percent since 2001. The added cost of the bigger raise, $2.2 billion through 2013, is money "that would otherwise be available to support our troops," said the OMB letter.

    Congress intends to approve the ninth consecutive military raise to be set at least .5 percent above private sector wage gains, continuing to close a perceived "pay gap" with civilians.

    Tricare increases: Dr. S. Ward Casscells, the assistant secretary of defense for health, has said he intends to work with Congress and service associations on more modest Tricare fee increases for under-65 retirees and their dependents than has been pushed so far by the administration. The OMB letter doesn't reflect that.

    Reserve retirement: The Senate bill would lower the start of reserve retirement at age 60 by three months for every 90 days a reservist or Guard member is recalled after the change is enacted. The administration says this will "only marginally" improve career retention.

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