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Senate OKs Guard, Reserve pay bill
The Senate yesterday agreed to make sure federal employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve don’t lose pay when they are activated.
It also agreed to expand benefits for the families of soldiers killed, regardless of whether the deaths occurred in combat.
The measures were added to an $80.6 billion emergency-spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other costs. They are among a series of Democratic amendments that have been politically awkward for Republicans eager to show support for troops, but also looking to contain costs.
On Tuesday, Republicans defeated a proposal to add $2 billion for veterans health care. But yesterday , several members of the GOP majority voted to go along with Democratic proposals.
The amendment to make up the salary difference for federal employees activated for National Guard or Reserve duty was approved in a voice vote after a Republican attempt to derail it failed 61-39.
Its prospects of becoming law are uncertain. The Senate bill will have to be reconciled with an $81.4 billion version of the spending bill the House approved last month. In recent years, House-Senate negotiators quietly have stripped similar provisions from other legislation, said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, the amendment’s sponsor.
Mr. Durbin said about 120,000 U.S. government employees serve in the Guard or Reserve and, when activated, they lose an average of $368 per month, the difference between their civilian and military pay. He said pay issues are a main reason members of the Guard and Reserve don’t re-enlist.
But Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, said Guard and Reserve members understand the financial implications of serving when they enlist. Paying federal employees their full salary would make them higher-paid than regular service members, which could harm morale, he said.
Mr. Durbin’s office said making up the pay difference would cost about $170 million over five years.
For soldiers who die in combat zones, the Bush administration proposed an increase in death benefits. Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, won a voice vote to extend those greater benefits to include soldiers whose deaths are not combat-related.
“You can be driving a car and have a car accident in a combat zone and you qualify for that upper-level [death benefit],” Mr. Kerry said of the administration’s proposal. “But if you’re serving on an aircraft carrier or elsewhere, and you’re training personnel, and you die … you don’t get the same benefit, even if you’re preparing to send troops to war.”
A Republican effort to set Mr. Kerry’s amendment aside was defeated 75-25.
Mr. Stevens argued that “fallen heroes” should be entitled to greater death benefits than service members who die in drunken-driving accidents in the United States.
Republicans also agreed in a voice vote to a Kerry proposal to let the families of soldiers killed in action stay in military housing for up to a year after the soldiers die, instead of the current 180 days.
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