What’s Wrong With Combat Pay?

American soldiers are risking their lives in Fallujah. No one would say that they don't deserve a special bonus for wearing <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America's uniform in these embattled times. No one, that is, except many members of Congress—Republican and Democrat. While these pols fall all over themselves to argue how much they support the troops, they back a policy called “pay parity”—which sends the message that the soldier risking his or her life in Iraq is just like any other government worker. “Pay parity” dictates that federal military and civilian workers must get the same percentage increase in pay. The concept has governed in most of the last 20 years of congressional appropriations, but the Bush administration has argued that a special raise is in order for the armed services. The administration's budget for fiscal year 2005 provides for across-the-board pay increases of 3.5 percent for military employees and a smaller raise for federal civilian workers. But even with a war on, government employees' unions and many in Congress still make the argument that soldiers serving in Iraq and bureaucrats at the IRS are equally important to the well-being of America. Tom Davis (R., Va.), who represents suburbs of D.C. that many federal workers call home, states, “both civilian and military employees are the government's greatest asset.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), with a similar constituency, asserts, “Congress and the White House should not undermine the morale of dedicated federal public servants by failing to bring their pay adjustments in line with military personnel.” Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, says that ending pay parity would send to federal employees the message “that their work is . . . not as valued, and not as vital as that of . . . military counterparts.” Yet if members of Congress are as concerned about soldiers as they say they are, the message to Ms. Kelley and her ilk must be that, as important as some of the work done by civilian employees is, their work is not as indispensable as that done by the soldiers keeping our country free. Congress still has a chance to change this policy in the lame duck session. Opponents of pay parity also warn that sticking to existing policy in the coming years could hamper the efforts to retain the best soldiers in the military. They also refute arguments used to support pay parity based on the supposedly large pay gap between federal-civilian and private-sector workers. Rep. Ernest Istook (R., Okla.) points out that over the last four years, pay raises for federal civilians have been double the Consumer Price Index's cost-of-living increase. Federal workers also get the day off with pay on 11 federal holidays, more paid time off than most private-sector jobs provide. And, of course, American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan don't get any holidays from being in harm's way. Besides, in wartime, federal civilian workers should understand why the military should get priority in pay raises. As Ramona Fortanbary, editor of Veterans' Vision, writes, “These patriotic men and women, who after all did choose government service over more lucrative private employment, can and will understand that . . . at times of great demand upon the military services . . . the troops need the money more.” <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />