Federal civilian wages could be a major stumbling block for increasing military pay above recommended levels next year, according to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., in a roundtable with reporters on Wednesday said that boost troops’ paychecks by more than 4.6% — the level recommended by the White House earlier this year — will depend in part on whether similar boosts can be found not only for defense civilian workers, but all federal employees.

“There are a whole lot of people on the non-defense side who are working in other departments and doing other work that is important as well,” he said. “The general rule that we’ve tried to stick to is to give federal employees the same pay raise even with the military. So if we want to go above that, how do we meet that need?”

The federal budget proposal unveiled by the White House in March includes an average pay increase of 4.6% for civilian federal workers, matching the planned military pay raise. The House Appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government backed that level in budget documents released Wednesday morning.

The civilian worker raise for 2022 was 2.7%, also the same as what service members saw.

For years, outside advocates have pushed unsuccessfully to formally link the two figures. Despite that, lawmakers generally have matched the two, with a few exceptions.

In the early 2010s, for example, military members saw pay raises around 1% annually, while federal workers had their salaries held flat for three consecutive years.

The planned 4.6% pay raise would be the largest annual increase for both troops and civilian workers in 20 years.

Outside defense advocates have argued that lawmakers should bump up military pay even higher, to counter increasing inflation costs in recent months. Lawmakers on the Senate and House Armed Services Committee are expected to consider those ideas in coming days.

In April, a group of 62 congressional Democrats endorsed a plan to grant all federal workers a 5.1% pay raise in 2023, citing “a history of chronic underinvestment” in the federal workforce.

The financial services panel of the House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on its appropriations draft on Thursday. The House Armed Services Committee will debate the military pay raise further next week, as part of a day-long authorization mark-up on June 22.

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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