In what is likely to be the final word on the 2013 defense budget, a key Senate committee voted Aug. 2 to support a 1.7 percent military pay raise Jan. 1 while rejecting a Pentagon request for big Tricare fee increases.
The Senate Appropriations Committee made those calls as it passed a $604.5 billion defense spending bill for the fiscal year that will begin Oct. 1.
Among the committees that craft the defense budget, the Pentagon went 0-for-4 in selling the idea of income-based Tricare fees but went 4-for-4 with the Jan. 1 pay raise, which would match average private-sector wage growth last year.
There is a wrinkle in the budget process, however. Just two days before the Senate committee's vote, congressional leaders announced they had reached agreement with the White House to delay passing permanent appropriations bills for any federal agencies or programs.
Instead, they agreed to pass a six-month temporary spending measure — known as a continuing resolution — to keep the government running until April 1, leaving final decisions on 2013 spending to the new Congress that will convene in January.
That will not interfere with the planned pay raise, which is authorized under permanent federal law. Congress could block, increase or decrease the raise, but if lawmakers do nothing, it will take effect.
Nothing about the temporary funding bill situation would allow the Pentagon to raise Tricare fees unilaterally.
In a twist that is unexpected given the mood in Congress to cut spending, the temporary funding bill will allow for a modest increase in spending for six months, although details will not be announced until September.