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House Chairman Pledges Not to Rush Big Military Pay Changes

House Chairman Pledges Not to Rush Big Military Pay Changes

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Jan. 27, 2015 – 3:44 p.m.

By Connor O’Brien, CQ Roll Call

The House Armed Services chairman said he could foresee quickly moving legislation on changes recommended in a military compensation and retirement study that enjoys broad support, though he promised not to rush through major changes.

Without discussing specific changes he might endorse, Texas Republican Mac Thornberry reiterated Tuesday that changes proposed by the congressionally mandated panel tasked with finding ways to overhaul the military’s compensation and benefits package deserve careful consideration. The panel is expected to issue its report later this week.

“There may be some things that they propose that we could do relatively quickly,” Thornberry told reporters. He has said recruitment and retention should be the primary driver of military compensation changes.

“I don’t want to rush to it,” he cautioned. “On the other hand, if there are things that people, you know, pretty much understand the consequences of, pretty much agree to, then we can do some of it now and maybe some of it later.”

In a cautious approach to the politically charged issue of military pay and benefits, Thornberry has expressed a preference to wait for the report and not rule anything in or out just yet. “I think we’ll need to look and see what they propose,” he said. “I don’t think necessarily we ought to have to look at it as an all or nothing proposition.”

The nine-member commission includes military and political heavy hitters such as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, and former House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Steve Buyer of Indiana.

Thornberry said he has yet to see the commission’s report. While he has met with some of the members of the commission, he said their discussions focused more on process than on specific recommendations they might make.

“I had a brief meeting last week with some of the commissioners,” Thornberry said. “I have not seen anything in writing and even that meeting got interrupted by votes.”

The newly minted Armed Services chairman said his discussion with commissioners led him to believe they share his general approach on the issue of compensation changes.

“When they started this, they looked at what sort of pay and benefits were effective in achieving their intended goals and which ones were not,” Thornberry said. “They did not go into it with an attitude of ‘OK, where can we cut money?”‘

“And I think the way they looked at it was exactly the right way to look at it,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is set to release its proposed budget next week. Officials are making pay and benefit proposals that would save an estimated $18.2 billion over the next five years, including slowing the growth in basic allowance for military housing, consolidating Tricare healthcare plans, implementing annual fees for Tricare for Life coverage and additional changes to pharmacy co-pays. The budget is also likely to include a 1.3 percent military pay raise.

Thornberry reiterated his view — also shared by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain — that changes in retirement pay should include individuals currently serving in the force. The fiscal 2013 defense policy law (PL 112-239) that created the panel also barred it from making recommendations that would alter monthly retirement payments for current service members and retirees.

Commission members are set to testify on the findings and recommendations at a House Armed Services hearing on Feb. 5, a week after the report is released.

“This was a congressionally created commission,” Thornberry said. “They need to come, explain their recommendations and their reasoning, and then depending on what they say, then we figure out where we go from there.”

Megan Scully contributed to this report.
Source: CQ News

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