A key Senate panel on Tuesday approved a 3 percent pay boost for troops starting next January, with bipartisan support for the idea.

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.

Senators included the 3 percent pay raise in the personnel section of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s annual defense authorization bill draft.

If approved by the full committee — and it is expected to be later this week — the pay raise plan will match White House recommendations. The pay increase level is already publicly backed by several leaders on the House Armed Services Committee.

In past years, that figure has been trimmed to help cut overall defense budget costs, with savings redirected to a host of other modernization and readiness efforts. But outside advocates have cautioned against such moves, saying lower-than-expected pay raises can hurt military families’ finances and lower morale.

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.

The final draft of the authorization bill — and the official pay raise agreement — isn’t expected to pass until later this fall.

Personnel subcommittee Chairman Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said his panel’s draft section of the measure also includes increased incentive pays for military health care professionals, in an effort to continue recruiting those specialists amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Senators also approved temporary retirement eligibility relief to reserve personnel forced into difficult conditions by the ongoing pandemic. Details of that plan were not immediately released.

The plans passed the subcommittee without objection, although several Democrats on the panel lamented that leaders refused to include several reform provisions related to military sexual assault, including eliminating the ability of appellate panels to overturn some convictions.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. and a vocal advocate on the issue, promised to keep pushing the issue during the full mark-up later this week.

Unlike the House Armed Services Committee, which holds the majority of its votes and debate in public view, the Senate Armed Services Committee each year holds the majority of its work on the annual defense authorization bill behind closed doors. Of the six subcommittees, only the personnel panel held its mark-up work this week in a public session.

Senate committee leaders have said the arrangement allows for quicker consideration of amendments and eliminates worries about shifting between classified and non-classified topics. But open government advocates have long criticized the practice, especially given the House committee’s ability to achieve the same legislative goals without secrecy.

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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