(Photo by Craig Roberts/The American Legion)

Legion opposes military pay cut idea

The American Legion is strongly opposed to a proposal by outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to, in effect, lower the pay of military personnel effective next year.

In a Feb. 6 speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Panetta announced his intention to ask Congress to limit troop salary increases to 1 percent in 2014. Since this percentage is well below the Department of Labor’s (DoL) 2014 Employment Cost Index figure, the limitation amounts to a pay cut for members of the Armed Forces. For the past several years, military pay has been based on the DoL Index, resulting, for instance, in a 1.7 percent increase for 2013.

Legion National Commander James E. Koutz criticized Panetta’s plan. "This is not the way to go about saving money," Koutz said. "Making the men and women of the military pay for out-of-control spending by others is unwarranted, unfair and just plain wrong. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deserve a raise — certainly not a cut — to at least keep pace with the cost-of-living."

Additionally, Koutz said that no federal employees should receive larger raises than those in the military will be getting.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff favor Panetta’s proposal, though Congress must approve it as part of the 2014 federal budget.

According to Starr, the military pay cut proposal is seen by some as a political lever to encourage Congress to halt the march toward sequestration, including the massive automatic defense budget cuts that are to take effect March 1 if no agreements are reached regarding spending reductions to help resolve the nation’s deficit crisis. Panetta has repeatedly warned of the dangers to America’s military readiness if sequestration takes effect. He reiterated this stand during his Georgetown speech.

Increases in military pay have varied — sometimes dramatically — in the post-World War II era, according to data from the U.S. Navy

The data show that no raises were authorized from 1949 to 1952 when an enlisted recruit’s (E-1) starting pay was $75 a month ($1,100 in today’s dollars) and a newly commissioned officer (O-1) was paid $213 a month (about $3,100 in today’s dollars). From 1952 until 2011, most annual pay raises ranged from about 2 percent to 6 percent, averaging 4 percent. Larger pay hikes went into effect in 1963 (12.6 percent) and 1965 (11 percent for enlisted, 6 percent for officers). The highest salary increase was authorized in 1982, however, with a jump of up to 16.5 percent, depending upon rank or rate. In 2010, pay was generally raised 3.4 percent, then dropped to 1.4 percent and 1.7 percent in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

An estimated 1.8 percent pay hike had been proposed for 2014, though this will be nullified if Panetta’s suggestion is adopted by Congress. Pay raises of 0.5 percent, 1 percent and 1.5 percent are proposed for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017.