JCS TO TELL CONGRESS: ALLOW PAY CURBS OR HARM READINESS
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is giving the Joint Chiefs of Staff an unusual and potentially powerful opportunity to persuade senators they risk a readiness crisis if they don’t take significant steps this year to slow growth in military compensation.
All seven of the nation’s top four-star officers are to testify May 6, a rare event. They are expected side by side to urge support for pay and benefit curbs. The scene will be in sharp contrast to pleadings for higher pay by service chiefs during earlier times of crisis for the all-volunteer military.
The Joint Chiefs hope to make clear the dilemma Congress has created by trying to shield compensation from the effects of the 2011 Budget Control Act of 2011, with its deep cuts to overall defense spending and its automatic enforcement tool of sequestration.
The chiefs have said their budgets for 2015 and beyond offer a balanced approach to absorbing those cuts because they include $2.1 billion in compensation curbs next year and $30 billion in pay and benefit savings over five years. If Congress won’t back those, or offer alternative offsets, then the arbitrary across-the-board defense cuts of sequestration kick in.
The 28-star panel is expected to present fresh details on the consequences of that, for force structure, unit training, equipment and facility maintenance, worldwide operations and overall readiness.
Levin also has invited a second panel, of military association presidents, to testify. At least some of them will oppose any rise in troop or retiree out-of-pocket costs. To date, the most influential lawmakers on personnel matters are embracing that message, and shrugging off the warnings of defense civilian and military leaders.
Chairmen and ranking members of the military personnel subcommittees -- Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Susan Davis (D-Calif.) – have suggested in recent hearings they will oppose any curbs on compensation.
The Pentagon proposals they bristle at would:
-- Cap military pay raises for several more years, starting with a one percent raise cap in January 2015 to match the 2014 increase.
-- Dampen increases in basic allowances for housing until BAH recipients, on average, pay five percent of rental costs out of pocket.
-- Consolidate TRICARE health insurance options into a preferred provider network that would have new fees and also higher fees.
-- Make a phased cut in taxpayer support of commissaries so that average savings on groceries drop from 30 percent down to 10.
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