Mattis Takes the Hill to Talk Pay and Benefits

June 16, 2017

Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, USMC (Ret) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, USMC, testified before a series of hearings on Capitol Hill this week as they work with Congress on shaping the FY 2018 defense budget.

The two men stayed on message during the four hearings, pressing Congress on three main issues: fully funding the defense budget, passing the budget in a timely manner, and fixing sequestration so defense leaders can plan adequately.

Citing the problems of budget uncertainly, Mattis told lawmakers, “During nine of the past 10 years Congress has enacted 30 separate continuing resolutions to fund the Department of Defense, thus inhibiting our readiness and adaptation to new challenges.” 

He said continued use of stopgap funding measures and inconsistent budgets could lead to a “hollow force” in his mind.

Mattis, widely considered one of the most talented military minds of his generation, offered a stark assessment of the effects of years of arbitrary budget caps, saying, “I retired from military service three months after sequestration took effect. Four years later, I've returned to the department and I have been shocked by what I have seen about our readiness to fight.”

Mattis Quote

Sustained conflicts abroad and a high operational tempo also have taken their toll on the services. “When Congress approved the all-volunteer force in 1973, our country never envisioned sending our military to war for more than a decade without pause or conscription. America's long war has placed a heavy burden on men and women in uniform and their families.”

“We have only sustained our ability to meet America's commitments abroad because our troops have stoically shouldered a much greater burden, but our troops' stoic commitment cannot reduce the growing risk,” Mattis added.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), chairman of the Military Personnel subcommittee, questioned Mattis about the administration's proposed cap on active duty pay. 

“Secretary Mattis were these decisions based on budget constraints or your belief that pay for the military should not keep pace with government inflation projections?” Coffman asked.

Walking a fine line in his response, Mattis alternated between saying DoD must “keep faith” with military families but also citing the “balancing act” required to execute his mission.

“I also have a responsibility to ensure that they can win on the battlefield, that we are providing them the best equipment, that we're doing the research and development that will keep them at the top of their game,” he said.

Current law ties active duty pay raises to private sector wage growth, which is projected to be 2.4 percent this year. The administration's request calls for a 2.1 percent pay raise. 

If enacted, the administration's pay cap would result in a 2.9-percent wage gap between military pay and private sector wages.

But history shows pay caps continue until they hurt retention.

The Trump administration's proposed $603 billion budget offers a slight increase in funding from the Obama administration's projected FY 2018 budget. It's part of a multi-year effort to increase the size of the military. The budget calls for increased spending on weapons, training, and equipment.

However, House and Senate leaders on the Armed Services committees believe the increase doesn't go far enough, and instead want to fund the department at $640 billion. 

It's currently unclear how Congress would be able to pay for such an increase. House and Senate lawmakers still are negotiating a top-line for spending.

The committees rapidly are moving through the bill making process, and hope to finish work on the defense bill by the Fourth of July holiday.

ACT NOW: Send your elected officials a MOAA-suggested message urging them to repeal sequestration.

Take Action Now: Repeal Sequestration

Unless current law is changed, sequestration will return next year and automatically trigger deep cuts to the Defense Department. These severe cuts will exhaust our resources and capabilities in immeasurable ways-the toll on our military and their families will likewise be incalculable. Make sure to send your legislators MOAA's suggested message encouraging them to repeal sequestration.

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