Service members would see their largest pay raise in 22 years under a defense budget proposal unveiled by the White House on Thursday, which also includes increased support for military families and continued implementation of military sexual assault prevention and response reforms.
The $842 billion Defense Department spending plan for fiscal 2024 represents a 3.2% increase for military operations over current levels, one that administration officials said enables the country to keep pace with national security threats. Specific military priorities and purchases of the full $1.7 trillion federal spending plan will not be unveiled until next week.
Thursday’s unveiling of the Biden administration’s budget is essentially a spending wish list that kicks off months of back and forth with Congress, the body that actually passes government budgets. With the House controlled by Republicans, the GOP has the power to block much of the outlined spending.
But the inclusion of a sizable pay raise for all troops starting in January 2024 is likely to win the support of both parties. Congress has largely gone along with the president’s past military pay raise proposals, and on several occasions in the last two decades, lawmakers have voted to raise pay even higher.
Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget plan proposal also calls for increases in allowances meant to ease economic burden for military families, including increases to the basic allowance for housing and the newly created basic needs allowance, which gives extra monthly pay to junior-ranking troops with large families.
“Specific programming increases include the further expansion of community-based, child care fee assistance, a public-private partnership to increase child care capacity, and a reduction in parent fees for child care workers in order to recruit and retain staff,” are also included in the proposal, according to budget documents.
Under Biden’s plan, military pay would increase by 5.2% next year, which would be the largest boost since a 6.9% average military pay increase in 2002.
The 2023 pay raise — which went into effect just over two months ago — was 4.6%. Combined with the 2024 proposal, troops would see almost a 10% increase in take home pay over a two-year stretch.
The raise is based on the federal Employment Cost Index, which tracks wages and salaries of private sector workers annually. It does not take into account general inflation increases.
Congressional critics have said the actual impact of the seemingly generous pay boosts for military families is minimal, because the higher costs of household goods and fuel aren’t factored into the calculation. Inflation rates soared about 8% at various points last year.
For junior enlisted troops, the 5.2% pay raise would mean about $1,600 more next year in take-home pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $2,900 more.
For an O-4 with 12 years of service, it’s more than $5,400 in extra pay in 2023.
Republicans on the House Armed Committee have vowed to re-examine all military pay this year, with a particular focus on raising junior enlisted pay rates. However, whether that work will impact the fiscal 2024 budget debate or the fiscal 2025 discussion remains to be seen.
The budget would also allocate funds to help the Pentagon implement a yearslong strategy to reform its sexual assault prevention and response programs, including a new, independent special prosecutor’s organization for adjudicating sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and other crimes.
Funding is also needed to hire a professional, dedicated workforce of educators and case workers to conduct prevention training and response support, reforming an existing system that often relies on service members to perform those roles as a collateral duty.
The White House’s budget overview does not make any mention of other specific personnel or readiness initiatives, including diversity, equity and inclusion or anti-violent extremism education and research, which have both figured into recent years’ budgets.
Conservative lawmakers have communicated recently they would not support spending on DEI or extremism issues.
A more detailed list of the Pentagon’s plans with respect to operations, training and end strength is expected later this month.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.
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.