Category Archives: Defense spending

>Porter sides with President against former POWs

>Should a member of the U.S. armed forces from Nevada, or a member of the Nevada National Guard ever find him or herself in the predicament of Lt. Col. Jeff Tice, held by the former regime in Iraq and brutalized for 76 days – don’t count on Representative Jon Porter (R-NV3) for any help. First, the Bush Administration opposed the former prisoners and appealed a ruling awarding them damages, and now the Administration has vetoed the Defense bill because it contained a provision that could have allowed Iraqi assets to be frozen in U.S. banks by Americans, who like Tice, who might have a claim on them. Representative Porter believes this is just fine – “The new government of Iraq should not be held responsible for torture and other misdeeds committed by ousted leader Saddam Hussein.” [LVRJ] So, in order to keep the bank open for the current Iraqi regime, President Bush and his allies like Representative Porter are willing to delay or deny $696 billion for raises for members of our military and health care improvements for veterans. Why? Evidently because the Iraqis threatened to withdraw $25 billion in assets from U.S. banks.

Frankly, this is reminiscent of the President’s argument with the FISA bill. The President reminds us continually about how absolutely essential it is to have a revised bill sent to his desk; how the very lives of Americans may depend upon it – but when all is said and done he’d veto any FISA bill that doesn’t contain retroactive immunity for telecom corporations. So, here we go again: The military spending bill was, again, absolutely essential, but not so essential that the threat of a withdrawal from U.S. banks approximately equal to what we are spending on the Iraq Occupation in three months wasn’t enough to derail the whole bill. Lesson learned? When the choice is between the interests of American citizens or the interests of banks and telecom corporations the Bush Administration, and cohorts like Representative Porter, will side with the banks and corporations every time.

As is often the case when controversial legislation is under discussion, Representative Dean Heller (R-NV2) was unavailable for comment.

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>Score: Defense Industry 1 – Taxpayers and Vets 0; Bush signs H.R. 3222 will veto H.R. 3043

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The President of the United States was pleased to sign H.R. 3222 into law today to fund Defense Department programs and projects. [WHPR] H.R. 3222 is the measure piled high with spending touted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that sends $28,040,000 to southern Nevada and another $58,980,000 to northern Nevada. [Reid] Later on the Senator’s press release page is a reaction to the President’s veto of the Health and Education appropriations bill, which President Bush dismissed as the product of “tax and spend” Democrats who are like “teenagers with a new credit card.”

Frankly, it isn’t hard to figure out which side of the aisle is behaving like adolescents with a line of credit cruising vehicle dealerships and electronics retailers. The President is quite happy to give the Pentagon a hefty increase for non-war spending, without including the cost of the occupation of Iraq and operations in Afghanistan in his requests.

The $471 billion defense budget gives the Pentagon a 9 percent, $40 billion budget increase. The measure only funds core department operations, omitting Bush’s $196 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, except for an almost $12 billion infusion for new troop vehicles that are resistant to roadside bombs. Much of the increase in the defense bill is devoted to procuring new and expensive weapons systems, including $6.3 billion for the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, $2.8 billion for the Navy’s DD(X) destroyer and $3.1 billion for the new Virginia-class attack submarine.” [AP] (emphasis added) No one should mistake this bill for “supporting the troops;” the increased funding “supports the munitions industry.” Add in the costs incurred for the President’s adventures in the Middle East and the “credit card” bill soars.

A Democratic staff report from the Joint Economic Committee states that “hidden costs” have driven the price tag for Iraq/Afghanistan to about $1.5 trillion, nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested. What the White House hasn’t included in its estimation of expenses are higher oil prices, care for wounded veterans, and the interest payments on money borrowed to pay for the operations. [AP]

The U.S. Department of Energy expects gasoline prices to climb about 20 cents per gallon by December, and could increase even more should OPEC not decide to increase production. [WSJ] A Congressional Budget Office study estimates that our veterans will require approximately $170 billion, in FY 2007, a significant increase from the $14 billion in 2001, and which excludes an estimated $1.6 billion in spending for medical care, disability compensation, and survivor’s benefits for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. [CBOpdf] Then, there are the astronomical debt numbers to deal with.

Read this number? $9,111,327,515,399.53 This is the current national debt which includes $5,105,250,799,670.21 in public debt and another $4,006,076,735,669.32 in intragovernmental holdings. [Treas] The public and intragovernmental indebtedness of the United States on January 20, 2001 was a grand total of $5,727,776,738,304.64 — meaning that the Bush Administration has run up a public debt almost equal to the entire level of indebtedness when the President took office. As of this morning the accrued interest payable on our national debt is $51,770,000 for public debt and $66,148,000 on intragovernmental holdings. [Treas] Now, who’s the “kid in the candy store?”

House Appropriations Chair Rep. David Obey (D-WI) offered his opinion on the signing of H.R. 3222 and the vetoing of H.R. 3043: “The same President who is asking us to spend another $200 billion on the misguided war in Iraq and is insisting on providing $60 billion in tax cuts next year to folks who make over a million bucks a year, is now pretending to protect the deficit by refusing to provide a $6 billion increase to crucial domestic investments in education, healthcare, medical research and worker protections that will make this country stronger. “That is not responsible and it is not credible.

“This is a bi-partisan bill supported by over 50 Republicans. There has been virtually no criticism of its contents. It is clear the only reason the President vetoed this bill is pure politics.” [Obey-pdf] This is also the same President who preferred not to notice that some of the funding for the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services was either for the direct benefit of veterans or supported programs for which they would be eligible when they return to their communities.

The President plans to veto H.R. 3043 which includes $228 million for veterans’ employment, $3.6 billion for job training for which veterans would be eligible, $23.6 million for programs to assist homeless veterans, $906 million for mental health services that might certainly be of use to veterans experiencing PTSD or other issues related to their service, and the $9.5 million in funding for research on Traumatic Brain Injury – the signature injury of the Iraq Occupation. [DB] [DB]

Majority Leader Reid issued a “we will work to over-ride the veto” statement today incorporating some of the points mentioned above: “It is unfathomable that on the very day the Joint Economic Committee released a report finding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could reach $3.5 trillion at the expense of America’s priorities at home, President Bush has vetoed a Labor-HHS-Education bill that addresses many of those critical needs. The bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill he vetoed increases funding for programs to improve K-12 student performance, makes college more affordable, supports life-saving medical research and provides relief for families struggling with rising home heating costs. And it provides money for veterans’ employment programs, homeless veterans, and research to help those suffering from traumatic brain injuries.” [Reid]

An over-ride may take some doing because H.R. 3043 made it out of the Senate on a 56-37 vote; with Reid voting in favor and Sen. Ensign (R-NV) voting “nay.” [rc 405] and passed the House 269-142 with Nevada Representatives Berkley (D-NV1) and Porter (R-NV3) voting in favor and Representative Heller (R-NV2) voting “no.” [GovTrack]

Frankly, the only way the President’s definition, (and presumably that of Senator Ensign and Representative Heller), of “fiscal responsibility” makes sense is if we ignore the expenses incurred by his adventurism in the Middle East and the occupation of Iraq, and if we adopt the view that tax and borrow is somehow more palatable than tax and spend. “Tax and spend” may make a nice epithetic bumper sticker slogan, but it also incorporates a fiscal perspective requiring that we take responsibility for our spending and not palm it off on our children and grandchildren or beyond, encumbering our nation with massive indebtedness. In regard to H.R. 3043, governmental responsibility requires that we acknowledge that our veterans are also citizens, who will return to communities in which they should be able to expect adequate job training programs, health services, mental health assistance, education, and job protections.

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Filed under Bush, Defense Department, Defense spending, Reid, Veterans

>Overnight Express News Round Up

>No representation: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) assisted by stalwart ally Senator John Ensign (R-NV) blocked a measure today that would have given voting rights to the citizens of Washington, D.C. McConnell displayed a strict construction of the U.S. Constitution, not visible during his support of the Bush Administration’s disposal of Habeas Corpus and the 4th Amendment. “I opposed this bill because it is clearly and unambiguously unconstitutional,” McConnell said in a statement. “If the residents of the District are to get a member for themselves, they have a remedy: amend the Constitution.” [WaPo] Following his usual procedure of filibustering all important legislation in the Senate, therefore requiring 60 votes for passage, McConnell prevailed when supporters were three votes short. The cloture motion was defeated 57-42. [roll call 339] Senator Ensign was among the 42 opponents, who may have been fearful that giving the District of Columbia a Congressional Representative might mean that the NRSC would have to eventually face two more Senatorial elections from a predominantly Democratic area. (See also: Gleaner “Ensign casts another proud vote for tyranny”)

Guilt by association and circumstance? (1) Because a man seeking employment as a security guard at Andrews AFB is charged with giving untruthful answers during a background check, the government is proposing to air statements at his upcoming trial from the controversial imam of his mosque. [WaPo] (2) Nalini Ghuman, a musicologist who specializes in the work of British composer Edward Elgar (“Pomp and Circumstance”) was stopped last August at the San Francisco Airport and was refused re-entry into the U.S. without explanation. The assistant professor at Mills College has been trying since then to find out why or how she ended up on a security watch list. Officials took her residency visa, and her application for a new one has been pending since October. A Homeland Security spokesperson said the agency had no choice but to refuse Ghuman’s entry because the State Department had revoked her visa – the State Department refused her inquiries citing “the confidentiality of individual visa records.” Ghuman’s father, a professor emeritus of educational psychology at the University of Wales, was born in India to Sikh parents, her mother is British. Nothing in Ghuman’s background suggests any connection to terrorist organizations. [IHT] (3) Lawyers for Khaled el-Masri, who was abducted by the CIA, interrogated in an isolation cell in Afghanistan, and released without apology or explanation five months later, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if the Bush Administration has the power to prevent Mr. el-Masri from “seeking recourse in American courts.” Justice Department lawyers have asked the court to dismiss the case to “prevent disclosure of state secrets.” “When Masri filed his suit in federal court, government lawyers told the judge that just confirming or denying the charges would reveal state secrets about how the US is waging its war on terror. The government submitted a classified affidavit to the trial judge, explaining its position. Masri’s lawyers were not permitted to see the affidavit. The judge threw out the suit on state-secrets grounds, and a federal appeals court panel upheld the dismissal on the same grounds.” [CSM] (emphasis added)

What a relief? NSA Director Michael McConnell testified today before the House Judiciary Committee that Americans have not been subjected to warrantless wiretaps “since at least February.” [NYT] This doesn’t exactly explain what was going on from October 2002 to February 2007. However, this is the first Administration public acknowledgment that the wiretapping of Americans has officially ended. This is not stopping the Administration from requesting more wiretapping authority and immunity for telecommunications companies who assisted with domestic wiretapping programs. [USAT]

Unhappy in the Security Department? Two employee satisfaction surveys have shown the Department of Homeland Security as the “most disgruntled” of the federal government. 57% said they were satisfied, compared to 67.5 for the other agencies. The Coast Guard and Secret Service were the most satisfactory, while employees of the Transportation Security Administration and the Science & Technology directorate were the most dissatisfied. Employees in those two agencies feared retaliation, didn’t respect the leadership, and “are convinced that whatever is getting some people promoted, it’s not merit.” [FedTimes]

Ground Zero: NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is supporting the “James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act” introduced by members of New York’s Congressional delegation. The bill would provide a range of physical and mental health services to ground zero workers, and would reopen the Victim Compensation fund to assist those who have been injured by exposure to the toxic atmosphere at the site. [NYT]

Land of the Midnight Scum? A member of the Alaska Legislature is asking the state attorney general to investigate bribery allegations involving the Pebble Mine project in the western part of the state. [ADN] Further east, Senator Ted Stevens holds the honor of having the most earmark requests in the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill. [ADN]

Also up north: “The United States has its hopes pinned on Canada’s tar sands for North American security in the oil market. But their “black gold” is an environmental nightmare.” [Alternet] And down South: Rock miners who want more mining around the Everglades hauled in heavy equipment and quarry workers to protest any restrictions on their operations. “The overflow turnout ensured that much of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing on a new study of mining ordered by a federal judge would closely follow industry script: Mounting economic losses from curbing mining will far outweigh environmental impacts from continued excavation in West Miami-Dade County.” [MiaHrld]

Shot over the Energy Giant’s Bows? The EU is drafting a law that would split Europe’s energy giants into separate production and distribution companies in order to encourage competition in the energy sector. [DerSpiegel] This should give everyone a fairly good idea of exactly who is in favor of a free market economy and who isn’t?

Defense contractors are ready to mount their opposition to proposed changes in procurement policies. “Contractor groups are taking particular aim at provisions in the bill that would push the department to pay more contractors on a fixed-price basis rather than for work hours or materials used. The bill would prohibit the Pentagon from applying special rules for buying commercial services when awarding these so-called time-and-materials contracts. Some procurement experts advising Congress have said the provision will help restrict overuse of the contracts, which have in some cases have resulted in skyrocketing costs.” [GovExec]

“The British are leaving, the British are leaving.” Further cuts in British forces in Iraq may be announced as early as October 8, 2007 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown is scheduled to address the Commons after the summer break. The British have already announced they are withdrawing 500 of their total 5,500. [Guardian UK] The comments of Lord Ashdown, chair of the commission on terrorism, may be more discomfiting to the White House. “Our problem is that we have chosen the wrong mindset, the wrong battlefield, the wrong weapons and the wrong strategies to win this campaign. We have chosen to fight an idea, primarily with force.” [Guardian UK] Iraq’s ambassador to Australia is confident that relations between the two nations would not be damaged if the Labor government withdraws Australian troops from Iraq after the middle of next year. [SMH] Australia now has 575 combat troops and about 1000 support personnel in Iraq.

Taking an errand breakDesert Beacon and Blue Sage Views will not be updated tomorrow so that some real honest to goodness old fashioned work can get done. Thank you for your patience and interest.

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Filed under Defense spending, energy, Ensign, Homeland Security, Iraq

>Diversion 101: Republicans cry "Mom! It isn’t fair."

>As predicted, the Las Vegas Review Journal headlines the latest Republican “manufactured outrage moment” over Nevada Senator Harry Reid’s assessment of outgoing Joint Chief’s chair, General Peter Pace. [LVSun] For the record, such magic moments (Kerry’s botched joke, et. al.) will hereinafter be designated “MOMs” for Manufactured Outrage Moment — rather reminiscent of Paris Hilton’s scream for “Mom” when she found out the judge wasn’t kidding when he said she was going to actually have to serve jail time. And, again — why would the GOP need a MOM at the moment? Perhaps because today’s headlines aren’t much better than yesterday’s.

The botched up electrical system on the International Space Station isn’t the only problem NASA is having at the moment. Chairman Brad Miller and Ranking Member James Sensenbrenner of the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight aren’t the least bit amused that Michael Wholly, NASA’s general counsel personally destroyed video records of an April 10 agency meeting between NASA administrator Michael Griffin and the staff of the Inspector General’s office. And, why did Wholly decide he should “break them into pieces and throw them in the trash?” Ans: Because “..if they were retained and filed, they would become (government) records by virture [sic] of that retention. From my perspective…I did not believe it wise to have these in any way become records, subject to release under the FOIA.” [Gavel] Representatives Miller and Sensenbrenner wrote yesterday to the Department of Justice urging that Mr. Wholly’s actions be investigated for possible prosecution. [Gavel]

More School Daze: A report released by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) shows that the cosy relationship between student lenders and university officials was more pervasive than previously disclosed. [NYT]

Nelnet, a lender based in Nebraska, created an elaborate point system to reward college officials who advised it. Contributing an idea for a product earned 25 credits. Completing an online survey won another 25. The credits could be redeemed for donations to an “alma mater or college/university of choice.” Each was good for $1.” [NYT] *Nelnet was on Nevada Congressman Jon Porter’s (R-NV3) Top Twenty Contributors list in 2005-06, donating $11,000 to the Congressman’s campaign coffers. [OS]

The full report, “Marketing Practices in the Federal Family Education Loan Program,” is available on Sen. Kennedy’s website. (pdf)

Where are the MRAPs? Back in February 2005 the U.S. Marine Corps made an urgent request for 1,169 MRAPs (a vehicle designed to mitigate the effects of IEDs). The Pentagon sent more Humvees, and didn’t actually order the MRAPs until May 2006 — and then ordered only 185 of them. Defenses Secretary Robert Gates is now asking for an internal Pentagon investigation into why this “priority 1 urgent” request wasn’t processed correctly. [McClatchy] Five more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq a day after extremists fired shells into the Green Zone. Three of the soldiers were killed when a bomb exploded near their vehicle (type unspecified) near Kirkuk. [Army Times]

The Veterans Affairs Department has set aside $20 million in its budget to handle the latest data breach that put the identities of nearly a million physicians and VA patients at risk of identity theft. [GovExec]

Washington Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) met with administrators of a VA hospital in Seattle about the report indicating serious problems with psychiatric health care for veterans at the facility. She said she would make the report about the VA Medical Center in Seattle, the American Lake Hospital (Tacoma), and a VA outpatient clinic in Bremerton, public. [SPI]

Another worry for the Haves and Have Mores: Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) have introduced legislation from the Senate Finance Committee to change loophole in tax laws governing publicly traded partnerships that derive their income from investments. [The Hill]

Bandar-Bush and the BAE: The Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. is investigating allegations that British defense company BAE systems, a major player in the U.S. defense industry, paid bribes to get contracts in Saudi Arabia, Chile, and elsewhere. One of the “persons of interest” is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, “former Saudi ambassador to the United States, and a close Bush administration ally.” Additional information available at the Guardian UK and the BBC

Not So Smiley Faced? Another ethics controversy at retail behemoth Wal-Mart erupted when an employee found herself looking for a job elsewhere for whistleblowing on possible ethics violations by a superior. [Business Week]

That should be just about enough to make the Republicans cry, “MOM?” Update: BTW, Glenn Greenwald asks: Where was all the outrage from the GOP when Republican Presidential Convention delegates were sporting those “Purple Heart Band-aids” mocking Senator John Kerry’s war record? Or, when Rep. Jean Schmidt called decorated war hero Rep. John Murtha a coward on the floor of the House? Or, when Republican Senator John McCain took after General George Casey?
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AB 396 info at Blue Sage Views

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Filed under Defense spending, NASA, Reid, Student Loans, Veterans

>Ensign’s Overlook: Defense contractor whistleblower protection amendment advances

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Once upon a time, in a capital far away, the junior Senator from Nevada served as the chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support during the Rubber Stamp 109th. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) was only too pleased to explain during his 2006 re-election campaign how his committee was exercising oversight of defense procurement contracts. [DB] [DB] Had the Junior Senator been as arduous in his task as he said he was, then why are we now reading that the House gave a veto proof majority to legislation increasing whistleblower protection? Why is the Senate poised to do the same?

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved amendment language to the 2008 Defense Authorization bill that would increase whistleblower protections for Defense Department contract employees who report waste, fraud, or abuse. [GovExec] The House passed similar language in HR 985 by a veto-proof 331-94 vote. Predictably, the Bush Administration is opposed: “…(the) administration has argued that expanding whistleblower protections could increase the number of frivolous complaints and compromise national security. The president has threatened to veto the House bill on the grounds that it would authorize any employee to make a classified disclosure to members of Congress.” (emphasis added)

Heaven forbid we’d have any more “frivolous” complaints like: (1) The under-performing ASDS Navy vehicle the problems with which were shuffled from the contractor to the Service, and which the GAO reported was built with little incentive to meet schedule or cost goals resulting in half the delivery ordered going over cost and 20 out of 26 orders missing the delivery deadlines; [GovExec] or (2) the Coast Guard’s flawed “Deepwater Program” that created unusable patrol boats with cracking hulls; [DID] or (3) Why the Pentagon didn’t release Dragon Skin test results until May 28 — after the NBC report comparing DS to the Interceptor Body Armor — and still hasn’t explained why shots were test fired into “non-rifle defeating areas?” [MSNBC] or (4) The Humvee doors that trap troops inside after a blast, weren’t designed for urban warfare in the first place, and haven’t yet been replaced with MRAP vehicles — a $1.5 billion amendment secured by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) in the most recent military spending bill. [USAT] Marines in the field have been asking for 1,200 MRAPs since February 2005 and thus far they’ve received less than 100. [TP] This sounds suspiciously like Senator Ensign’s definition of Oversight meant “overlooking,” not “over looking.”

Senator Ensign now serves as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
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Update: Nevada News roundup at Blue Sage Views

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>Reid to Bush: Checkmate?

>Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is rumored to have a response for the President’s predilection for making “interim appointments” bypassing Senate confirmation — Rumor Mill says Reid will hold quick sessions every ten days throughout the August recess to force the President to send the nominees into the confirmation process. [via Think Progress] [USNWR]

Someday it would be really really nice to go rambling around the blogosphere and NOT find yet another article about Nevada’s Governor — with a headline like “Gov. Gibbons, a Friend to Defense Contractors and a Gentleman.” [TPMM]

Here’s another reason to bookmark the GAO’s webpage in your browser: “Defense Budget: Trends in Operation and Maintenance Costs and Support Services Contracting.” [report] A taste: “…since fiscal years 2000 and 2005 DoD’s O&M costs increased from $133.4 billion to $209.5 billion…” If that isn’t enough, there’s “Army’s weapon system new poster child for acquisition fiascos” Tease: “The original cost of the Army’s Future Combat System was to be $92 billion; now it’s up to over $200 billion…” [CDI]

If Republican pundit Patrick Buchanan ever says that the 110th Congress can’t force a presidential adviser to testify…. direct him to this list from the Congressional Research Service. He’s on it for September 26, 1973.

There’s a little more to the World Bank’s problems that’s been swamped by the Wolfowitz Blitz. Records and documents in two cases involving KPMG Financial Advisory Limited and Diligence LLC have been sealed by court order. Diligence LLC specializes in corporate intelligence gathering and espionage, and is a contractor with the Department of Institutional Integrity at the World Bank. [WhisBlwr] Suppose the tax-paying public will get to know about the settlement terms?

This press release on genetically altered crops from the Center for Food Safety didn’t make it to the Big Headlines — but should have.

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>Message to the President: Support the Troops

>Letter to the President: “When it comes to supporting our troops, our actions must match our words. Please join us in supporting our troops by reconsidering both your veto threat to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, and your objections to an increase in military pay and survivor benefits for the brave men and women serving our country in the armed forces.” House Democratic Leadership, May 18, 2007 [The Gavel]

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>House supports the troops — will the President?

>Nevada’s congressional delegation had an opportunity today to vote on HR 1585 (2008 defense authorization bill). It passed with a resounding 397-27 vote. [rc 373] Reps. Berkley, Porter, and Heller voting in favor. Now the President needs to agree to a 3.5% pay raise for troops, rather than the 3% the White House requested.

“White House budget officials said Wednesday that they oppose any pay raise for members of the Armed Forces above the 3% in their proposal. The House Armed Services Committee is recommending 3.5% that would shrink the gap between civilian and military pay, currently at 3.9%.”

Bush budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases “unnecessary.” [Army Times] {emphasis added}

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