White House rejects 20% pay raise for junior troops, end to marijuana testing for recruits

Senior Master Sgt.  Jacqueline Barnwell speaks to junior enlisted Airmen at Joint National Guard Base Sumpter Smith, Alabama, February 2022.

Senior Master Sgt. Jacqueline Barnwell speaks to junior enlisted Airmen at Joint National Guard Base Sumpter Smith, Alabama, February 2022. (Nicholas Faddis/US Air National Guard)

WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday opposed a Congressional proposal to give junior service members a nearly 20% pay raise and eliminate marijuana drug testing for military applicants.

Both provisions are part of the House National Defense Authorization bill, a bill that will set the Pentagon’s policies for fiscal year 2025. Raising salaries in particular is a key part of the efforts of House lawmakers to improve the quality of life of military personnel. .

The White House said it “strongly opposes” any significant and permanent changes to the base pay scale ahead of a quadrennial review of military pay expected to be completed early next year.

“The House’s proposed changes would result in salary compression in certain portions of the enlisted military base pay table,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote in an administrative policy statement.

House lawmakers are proposing a 15% pay increase for junior military personnel, on top of the 4.5% pay increase requested by the White House for all troops. The House plan would cost $3.3 billion in fiscal year 2025 and more than $21.9 billion from 2025 to 2029, according to the White House.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, defended the additional pay raises while arguing for the authorization bill before the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

“Many of our young enlistees have difficulty affording housing. As housing costs have increased, their wages have not kept pace,” he said. “This is a bold step to ensure we support them, which, incidentally, will also help with recruitment and retention. »

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., called the targeted pay increase for junior troops “extremely necessary” and said he was aware of the White House opposition announcement.

“I wish the president wouldn’t have done this,” he said.

The House began holding a vote on the authorization bill on Tuesday, while the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to release its version of the legislation by the end of the week. The two versions will need to be reconciled before a final bill is signed into law.

The White House also came out against a House proposal to increase the eligibility and payment thresholds from 150% to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines for military personnel’s basic needs allowance, a additional monthly allowance.

The measure as currently written would exclude the value of the basic housing allowance from the eligibility calculation and result in a “much less targeted expansion of payments,” the White House argued. It would also cost $2.8 billion, which is not budgeted.

The administration also rejected a proposal to end marijuana drug testing for recruits and new military officers. The White House said it appreciated lawmakers’ desire to increase the number of applicants, but said “marijuana use by military personnel is a military readiness and security issue.”

Other objections to the House bill focused on provisions targeting culture war issues.

One of them prohibits affirmative action in military academies. The White House has said that academies use a range of factors to measure character, work ethic and leadership, and that reducing selection criteria to numerical merit scores would harm nontraditional students.

“If this provision were adopted, it would limit the ability of military academies to select the most qualified applicants and would have adverse consequences on the ability to develop a class representative of the entire nation,” the White House said.

Provisions in the House bill that gut diversity, equity and inclusion offices within the Department of Defense have also been criticized. The White House argued that the offices were critical to recruiting and retaining diverse perspectives, experiences and skills.

Separately, the administration said it disagreed with a proposal to establish a drone corps as a basic branch of the military as well as deviations from the president’s shipbuilding plans, including restrictions on the dismantling of cruisers.