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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fighting over the war-fighters

If a freshman member of Congress wants to challenge his president at a time of war, this is probably as good a reason as any: In explaining President Bush's opposition to the defense bill that passed the U.S. House on Thursday, the White House took direct aim at a provision first pushed by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, to give U.S. troops a 3.5-percent raise, instead of the 3-percent raise favored by the administration.

Bilirakis, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, first proposed the 3.5-percent pay raise in a stand-alone bill in January. Congressional leaders rolled the heart of his bill into the annual defense bill, which passed the House overwhelmingly Thursday -- and which the president opposes.

The White House directly criticized the pay raise, among other things, in explaining its opposition. "The additional 0.5 percent increase above the President’s proposed 3.0 percent across-the-board pay increase is unnecessary," the administration's statement of policy says. "When combined with the overall military benefit package, the President’s proposal provides a good quality of life for service-members and their families."

That extra 0.5-percent will cost the government an extra $7.3-billion over the next five years, the White House said.

But Bilirakis contends the government should do more to address the disparity of pay between the military and the private sector. Top congressional Democrats also have taken the offensive on the matter, sending Bush a letter Friday urging him not to block the pay increase. You can read the full Statement of Administration Policy on the defense bill here.

"This small step is the least we can do, especially during wartime, to ensure that our uniformed men and women are being properly compensated for their sacrifices," Bilirakis said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 3:23pm]

    

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