Despite all the uncertainty surrounding next year’s defense budget and federal coronavirus spending, service members should expect to get a hefty pay raise in 2021, according to the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

“People are our number one priority. And that’s a way to show our people we value them,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. “So I would expect the (White House’s) requested pay raise to be included next year.”

Service members would see a 3 percent pay raise starting next January under the federal budget plan unveiled by the White House in February.

The mark matches the expected pay boost prescribed under federal statute and, if approved, would represent the first time in a decade that troops have seen consecutive years with salary boosts of at least 3 percent. This past January, military pay increased by 3.1 percent.

For junior enlisted troops, the proposed 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.

In past budget cycles, defense leaders have pulled back on the federal pay calculation (designed to roughly match increases in private sector salaries) in an effort to shift available funds to other modernization and readiness priorities.

But Congress in recent years has rebuffed those types of moves. In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Thornberry — who led the committee from 2015 to 2019 — said ensuring military pay keeps pace with civilian wage levels is key to keeping the fighting force strong.

“We want to continue to attract and retain the very best people we can,” he said. “Nobody does it for the money, but it is at least a factor in families deciding whether they want to join or stay in the military.”

Thornberry said he does have concerns that other lawmakers will push for cuts in defense funding in coming months to offset some of the spending related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Congress approved more than $2 trillion in emergency funds, and additional economic stimulus packages are being discussed.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., has already said he would not support additional increase in defense spending if the money can be better used for other public health and recovery priorities.

But Thornberry said the worldwide pandemic won’t change the potential national security threats facing the military, and lawmakers need to make sure that defense funding isn’t compromised.

The White House budget plan calls for nearly $741 billion in defense spending for fiscal 2021.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are discussing how to move ahead with plans for the the annual defense authorization bill, which sets pay raise and spending priorities for the Defense Department’s annual budget.

The measure is typically approved by the House committee in late April or early May, but no timeline has been set this year because of the delay in congressional hearings related to coronavirus quarantine efforts.

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.

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