No one begrudges troops the best possible pay and benefits, which is why a bipartisan House panel felt emboldened to raise the White House’s proposed 2014 pay raise from 1 percent to 1.8 percent.
That would keep pace with private-sector pay growth, at a cost of about $536 million.
As in past years, lawmakers are reluctant to crimp military benefits, especially in time of war.
But in truth, they rarely are willing to make hard budget decisions, and that’s starting to pose a threat to readiness. Along with driving up personnel costs, they shamelessly fight attempts to close excess installations and demand the services continue to buy vehicles, aircraft and ships they neither want nor need.
Meanwhile, under the absurd sequester, they force the Pentagon to absorb $500 billion in across-the-board cuts over the next decade.
Clearly, America can’t sustain an all-volunteer force without appropriate compensation. It also can’t maintain readiness without setting priorities and letting military leaders make prudent long-term decisions.
Absent reform, the cost of the all-volunteer force will break the military. The $46 billion-a-year (and growing) retirement system, for example, simply was not conceived for increasingly common lifespans of 80-plus years.
Unless cost growth is checked, the choice facing future leaders won’t be the size of the pay raise, but how many more troops, ships and squadrons must be cut.
Congress can’t keep jacking up the price the Pentagon pays for people, weapons, bases and everything else while also squeezing the overall budget top line. The result will inevitably turn the world’s finest military into the definition of a hollow force.