Service members would see a 3 percent pay raise in 2021 under the federal budget plan unveiled by the White House on Monday, the first time in a decade that troops have seen consecutive years with salary boosts of at least that mark.
Earlier this year, military members saw their pay increased by 3.1 percent, the highest figure since 2010. If Congress goes along with the plan, it would increase the average yearly compensation for enlisted personnel to more than $63,000 and the average for officers to nearly $116,000, once other stipends and allowances are factored in.
The White House budget plan, which calls for nearly $741 billion in defense spending for fiscal 2021, labels the pay raise as a “modest increase” and notes that the figure is equal to the expected rise in the Employment Cost Index, which tracks wages for private industry workers.
Federal statute calls for tying increases in military salaries to that figure, unless other justifications are provided.
In recent years, lawmakers have been inclined to match that ECI figure, even when administration officials and Pentagon leaders have pushed for lower raises as cost-saving initiatives.
But for six consecutive years in the mid-2010s, the annual military pay raise was less than 2 percent. Several of those years put the figure below the ECI rate, which outside advocates warned was starting to create a worrisome pay gap between civilian businesses and the military.
For junior enlisted troops, a 3 percent pay raise would amount to roughly $860 more a year in pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $1,500 more. An O-4 with 12 years service would see more than $2,800 extra next year under the increase.
Lawmakers will spend the next few months dissecting the White House’s budget proposal and negotiating potential changes. Democrats on Capitol Hill have already taken issue with President Donald Trump’s plan to cut non-defense domestic spending by about 5 percent, while defense issues see a boost of less than 1 percent.
But both Democrats and Republicans have voiced support for maintaining expected pay raises for troops in an effort to insulate military families from other budget fights.
The fiscal 2021 budget plan is meant to go into effect on Oct. 1, but lawmakers have said they are doubtful that a full federal budget can be adopted by then because of the shortened legislative schedule this year related to the primary elections this spring and the general election in the fall.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.