House Republicans on Wednesday approved a measure to slash Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s salary from more than $221,000 annually to less than $1, based on their dissatisfaction with his work so far.
The move has little chance of becoming law, but underscores the growing animosity between conservatives and military leaders reporting to President Joe Biden. House Democrats dismissed the move as little more than a political stunt.
As part of debate on the fiscal 2024 defense appropriations bill, GOP lawmakers approved multiple similar proposals to cut salaries for Defense Department positions they dislike.
The Pentagon’s director of diversity and inclusion, the head of the department’s equity and inclusion office, the military’s chief diversity officer, and the assistant secretary of defense for readiness — a transgender woman — were all targeted with amendments that would trim their annual salary to less than $1.
Austin, as Biden’s top civilian military leader, was lambasted by Republican lawmakers on the House floor Wednesday for the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the military’s recent recruiting shortfalls and COVID-19 vaccine policies during the pandemic.
“Many Americans agree: We do not want the United States’ military led by failure, causing us to be weak,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga. and sponsor of the Austin salary provision. “We need to pass this amendment.”
A proposal to cut Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley’s pay to $1 was also floated by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., but dismissed by party leaders before Wednesday’s debate.
Green’s amendment was approved by a voice vote. Democrats did not press for a roll-call vote which may have prevented the provision from being adopted.
However, the pay cut is already unlikely to advance beyond the House, given Democratic control of the Senate and Democratic dissatisfaction with the defense budget bill. Party leaders have already publicly opposed the appropriations plan over Republicans’ inclusion of controversial social policy provisions, including language that would overturn the Pentagon’s abortion travel leave rules and restrict medical care for transgender troops.
“You may disagree with the administration’s policies, as we all have done over the years with different administrations. But Secretary Austin has done nothing to merit this,” said Rep. Betty McCollumn, D-Minn., and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel. “There’s no need for us to make such a personal, drastic attack by eliminating his pay.”
The White House has already threatened to veto the appropriations bill.
Republican leaders also included other amendments offered by the right-flank of the party, including the Freedom Caucus, on the floor. An amendment from Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, would bar the Pentagon from implementing President Joe Biden’s climate change executive orders, mirroring language he added to the defense policy bill in July.
A bevy of other bipartisan amendments would dock funding from the Defense Department’s Operation and Maintenance account in order to bolster various research and development programs.
The House is expected to vote on the full defense spending bill later this week. Even if it passes, a government shutdown starting Sunday remains likely, since House Republicans continue to disagree with Senate Democratic leaders over federal spending levels for a short-term government funding bill.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.