If Majority Leader Harry Reid can’t start pulling troops out of Iraq, he doesn’t want to start paying them any more either.
After an amendment to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days failed to receive the 60 votes needed to proceed, Reid set the entire defense authorization bill aside. By doing so, he shelved a 3.5 percent pay raise for all uniformed service personnel, $4 billion in equipment upgrades and a new program to treat traumatic brain injuries.
To increase pressure on Republicans to support the measure, sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D.-R.I.), Reid threw the Senate into an all night session on Tuesday evening that lasted through Wednesday morning. Levin-Reid fell eight votes short, 52-47.
“There are two things that I want to accomplish,” Reid told reporters immediately after the amendment vote. “One is to pass a defense authorization bill, but with a deadline dealing with Iraq. Once we put that together, we'll move forward on it.”
The defense authorization bill stipulates what defense projects receive federal money. After the authorization bill is passed, the Senate must pass a separate defense spending bill to release money to fund the authorized projects. The Senate has until September 30, when the fiscal year 2007 ends, to pass both bills.
In a Friday speech, President Bush stressed the importance of quickly passing the authorization bill. The President said, “The House and Senate are now scheduled to leave for their August recess before passing a bill to support our troops and their missions. Even members of Congress who no longer support our effort in Iraq should at least be able to provide an increase in pay for our troops fighting there. When Congress returns after Labor Day, there will be less than one month before the fiscal year ends and current funds for Defense Department operations run out.”
Reid fired back with a press release that said the Bush Administration believed “military pay raises are too costly and blocked everything we have done to support the troops.” In his fiscal year 2008 budget, President Bush requested a 3 percent pay increase for the military. When Congress began to discuss raising it to 3.5 percent, White House Office of Management and Budget Office Director Rob Portman said the administration was “strongly opposed” to the half percentage point increase. In a May letter Portman wrote, “The cost of increasing the FY 2008 military pay raise by an additional 0.5 percent is $265 million in FY 2008 and $7.3 billion” if the raises were enacted over the next five years.
For now, the troops aren’t scheduled to receive any pay increase.Leader Reid insisted he had enough time to pass the pay raise. “If the bill passed a week ago, if it passed today, anything in that bill does not become effective until next October, the end of the fiscal year. So we didn't put off anything,” Reid said.
Reid was tightlipped about when he might schedule time to resume work on the bill. Immediately after pulling the bill, Reid said on the Senate floor, “We’ll come back to this bill as soon as it’s clear we can make real progress on it.”