Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., would fund the pay increase by cutting research, development, test and evaluation accounts. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Senate debate on the $625.6 billion defense budget for 2014 could include a discussion about whether there is enough money for a slightly bigger military raise.
The basic bill includes the 1 percent raise proposed by the Obama administration and supported by defense and service leaders.
But Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has filed an amendment that would bump the raise to 1.8 percent.
That is the same amount included in the House version of the defense bill and would match average private-sector wage growth last year, following a long-standing federal pay formula.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is a cosponsor of Rubio’s amendment, and the legislation is endorsed by the Military Coalition, a group of 33 military and veterans’ organizations that share common legislative goals.
However, there is no guarantee the amendment will come to a vote.
It is one of more than 200 amendments filed on a bill that in the end often attracts more than 300. Many get left on the side of the legislative road as the Senate plows through the bill, with only noncontroversial amendments having a strong chance of passage.
Administration and military leaders have defended a smaller military raise as a necessity in a time of tight budgets. In its statement of administration policy, the White House praises the Senate for supporting the 1 percent raise.
Rubio, however, doesn’t buy it. “The men and women of our military make huge sacrifices for our nation and have earned the chance to be compensated accordingly,” he said in a statement. “Passing this amendment will have a direct positive impact on our military volunteers and their families.”
He also said the bigger raise seems appropriate considering the military isn’t sitting idle.
“As we continue to deploy troops all around the world to fight terrorism, respond to disasters and defend our interests, we have a duty to take care of them and their families,” he said.
“Though our military makes up just 1 percent of our population, service members and their families shoulder tremendous burdens and make great sacrifices to keep us safe and maintain our freedom,” Tester said in a statement. “We owe it to them to make sure they can take care of their families.”
The cost difference between a raise of 1 percent and 1.8 percent is $580 million in 2014 budget and $3.5 billion over five years.
Rubio has offered a way to cover that cost: His amendment would increase the military pay account by almost $600 million by cutting research, development, test and evaluation accounts by $71.2 million for the Army, $141 million for the Navy, $227.9 million for the Air Force and $158.2 million for defense-wide funds, along with a $1.6 million reduction in defense operational test and evaluation funds.