A Better Way to Give Pay Raises to Junior Enlisted? Key Senator Says It’s Under Consideration This Year.

by Braxton Taylor

Reforms to junior enlisted pay will be among the Senate Armed Services Committee’s considerations when it debates its annual defense policy bill in the coming months, the committee’s chairman said Monday.

Speaking to reporters during a Defense Writers Group conference call, Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said his panel is considering whether there is a “better model” to boost pay for lower-ranking service members than the annual across-the-board raises.

“I think we’re looking at not only incentive pay, but the idea of whether all of our pay increases have to be uniform across every rank, basically. Is there a better model? And we’ll be looking at that to determine if there is a better model,” Reed said in response to a question from Military.com.

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“We’re going to be seriously engaged with the department in terms of, how do we compensate our forces and how do we make sure that quality of life is attractive,” he added.

The comments from the lawmaker in charge of shepherding the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, add to the likelihood that Congress will make strides this year in addressing the issue of junior enlisted pay not keeping pace with the economy.

Reed’s comments come after the House Armed Services Committee’s quality-of-life panel indicated that reforms to junior enlisted pay will be among the foci of its final recommendations, which are expected to be released in the coming weeks.

For years, service members of all ranks have gotten the same annual raise, with recent years seeing large hikes. This year, troops got a 5.2% raise, the biggest boost in two decades, and the Biden administration has requested a 4.5% raise for next year.

But lawmakers in both parties have said raising pay by the same percentage for all service members has created a growing chasm between the highest-paid troops and lowest-paid ones. To close the gap, lawmakers in recent years have proposed overhauling the pay chart to give targeted raises to junior enlisted troops.

Previous efforts by lawmakers to reform junior enlisted pay have been stymied by resistance from Pentagon officials who argue major changes to the pay chart would be premature amid an ongoing comprehensive review of military pay that is expected to be done by early 2025.

But backing from the leadership of both the House and Senate armed services committees could make those efforts more successful this year.

Still, lawmakers also have to contend this year with budget caps they previously agreed to.

On Monday, Reed did not rule out the possibility that pay reforms will have to be a multiyear process because of this year’s budget caps.

Another military quality-of-life issue that could be threatened by the budget caps is the Army’s request to bulk up its funding to fix and replace crumbling barracks in 2025.

Reed expressed optimism that the Pentagon will make a “strong case” for quality-of-life funding when officials testify before Congress this year, but he also acknowledged that the budget caps could force that funding to compete with some lawmakers’ desire to buy more weapons than the Pentagon requested.

“I think the Department of Defense, particularly the Army, has really made it very clear that they believe these quality-of-life initiatives for barracks and others are essential to the force,” Reed said. “Also, being compensated in a way that you can feel financially secure and on the path to be even more secure if you stay in, that’s a retention issue.”

“There are proposals in the budget to retire platforms. Those always are somewhat controversial,” he added. “But again, we have to do our job too. We have to make tough decisions.”

Related: Immediate Action Needed to Boost Military Pay and Improve Housing, Senior Enlisted Leaders Tell Congress

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