Junior enlisted pay to be key congressional focus in 2024

by Tommy Grant

Military pay will be a key focus of Congress in 2024, with conversations centered not only on the size of future raises for all troops but also whether junior enlisted personnel should see even higher hikes.

Lawmakers earlier this year backed plans for a 5.2% pay raise for all service members on Jan. 1, the largest annual pay raise in 22 years. The boost is not a result of congressional or executive branch generosity, but instead reflects the federal formula tying military salaries to civilian pay trends.

By that formula, the 2025 pay raise for troops should be 4.5%, the third consecutive year of pay hikes above 4% for military members.

White House officials or members of Congress could change that increase in their budget battles over coming months, either raising it to make up for higher cost-of-living concerns or dropping it to save money for other military priorities. But that has not happened since the early 2010s.

Lawmakers are more likely to keep the 4.5% raise mark and instead focus on targeted increases for troops with high-demand skills and junior enlisted personnel, a group whose annual base pay typically does not top $30,000.

Last summer, House Republicans advanced legislation to guarantee that even the lowest-ranking service members make at least $31,000. But the legislation was opposed by the White House, in part because of questions surrounding the cost and the other compensation those troops receive — things like housing stipends and enlistment bonuses.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s special military quality of life panel, has said he plans to make the junior enlisted pay issue a key focus of the committee’s work on the annual defense authorization bill this summer.

Pentagon leaders have pushed to postpone the debate until they complete their Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, a periodic review of troops’ pay and benefits. But work from that group isn’t expected to be finished until January 2025. Bacon has said the issue needs to be addressed sooner.

Work on the authorization bill is expected to start in February, but delays in Congress passing a full federal budget for fiscal 2024 could delay some of those hearings and debates.

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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