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Paul Specht
By Paul Specht October 10, 2020

No, Tillis didn't oppose military raises or boost his own pay

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  • VoteVets claims that U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis voted "against a pay raise for a military, while voting for a pay raise for himself."
  • The ad cherry-picks issues from the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that Tillis voted against in 2018.
  • The ad exaggerates the effects of the omnibus and ignores a previous vote by Tillis to secure raises for the military.

A new campaign ad claims U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis isn’t doing enough for the military.

The ad by VoteVets, a left-leaning campaign committee, attempts to highlight the military career of Tillis’ Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham. Political experts believe the North Carolina race could determine which political party wins a majority in the Senate.

A woman in the ad says Tillis voted "against a pay raise for a military, while voting for a pay raise for himself." 

Those words also appear on screen.

So are they true?

Not really. For this ad, VoteVets cherry-picked two sections of a massive budget bill and it ignores Tillis’ other efforts to raise military pay.

The 2018 bill

The ad cites a March 23, 2018 vote on HR 1625 for both of its claims about pay.

HR 1625, which became law, is also known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 or the "omnibus bill." That means it funded multiple areas of government, from the Commerce and Justice departments to other special projects.

The bill was controversial among many Republicans who thought its $1.3 trillion price tag was too high. Tillis wasn’t the only Republican to vote against it. (Others went so far as to encourage Trump to veto the bill.)

Trump complained that the bill didn’t include enough funding for more wall construction on the southern border. But he signed it anyway, all the while calling it "ridiculous" and saying he would "never sign another bill like this again." 

The bill did include a 2.4% raise for troops, which the White House said was the largest pay raise since 2010. And it funded raises that Tillis and others had already approved.

Military pay

Tillis supported a military pay raise authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed just three months before the omnibus bill.

In June 2017, Tillis touted his subcommittee’s approval of military raises for the NDAA. That September, he voted for the NDAA. And in December 2017, President Trump signed the bill -- and its 2.4% raise for military service members --  into law. In March, the omnibus bill (the same one mentioned in the VoteVets ad) guaranteed funding for those NDAA raises.

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"As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, Senator Tillis worked across the aisle to authorize a pay raise for service members in the NDAA," Tillis spokesman Andrew Romeo said.

"Senator Tillis supported a wide range of priorities that were funded in the bill, including the pay raise for service members that Senator Tillis successfully advanced during the NDAA process," Romeo said.

Pay for Congress

The ad’s claim about raises for Senators is misleading. The omnibus bill didn’t introduce a new salary for senators, so much as cancel a raise that was already scheduled to take place.

The Constitution allows members of Congress to set their own salaries, but there’s a catch: the 27th Amendment says a new salary can’t take effect until after the next election. 

In 1989, Congress enacted a formula for providing cost of living adjustments to Congress members. But since 2009, the annual salary for most senators has remained at $174,000.

Why have salaries stayed the same for a decade? Because the law allows some political theater so members can "vote against" a raise.

Congress routinely blocks the automatic wage adjustment from taking effect. (The Congressional Research Office published a history of Congressional salaries in this 2020 report.)

The 2018 omnibus included the same pay freeze, saying "no adjustment shall be made under section 601(a) of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (2 U.S.C. 4501) (relating to cost of living adjustments for Members of Congress) during fiscal year 2018."

We asked the Tillis campaign why Tillis opposed the omnibus bill. Romeo said it had nothing to do with pay for service members or a pay increase for senators.

"When Congress was presented with a huge spending bill that failed to make any meaningful attempts to get federal spending under control, Senator Tillis voted in favor of cloture to prevent the bill from stalling but voted against the final passage," Romeo said. Cloture is a Senate procedure for ending debates on the floor.

Our ruling

The VoteVets ad says Tillis voted "against a pay raise for a military, while voting for a pay raise for himself." 

It’s true that the bill VoteVets referenced included a raise for military service members, and that it froze pay for Congress members. It’s also true that Tillis voted against it.

However, VoteVets ignores the broader context of the bill and of Tillis’ record on military pay. Tillis supported military raises in the National Defense Authorization Act. And he says his opposition to the omnibus bill had nothing to do with pay for Congress members.

This ad is a classic example of cherry-picking that PolitiFact sees every election, using a single vote to make a misleading point. The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Video ad against U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis by VoteVets, a left-leaning advocacy group.

Email correspondence with Eric Schmeltzer, spokesman for VoteVets.

Email correspondence with Andrew Romeo, spokesman for the Thom Tillis campaign.

Bill HR 1625, also known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

Bill HR 2810, also known as the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018.

Story by the Washington Post, "Trump signs $1.3 trillion spending bill despite veto threat on Twitter," posted March 23, 2018.

Story by the Military Times, "Congress passes $1.3 trillion budget measure, finally resolving FY18 budget fights," posted March 23, 2018.

Story by Stars and Stripes, "Trump signs defense bill, awaits funding fight," posted Dec. 12, 2017.

Press release by the White House, "The American people win as President Donald J. Trump’s priorities are funded," March 22, 2018.

Press release by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, "Tillis secures NDAA provisions to fund updates to NC military installations and improve quality of life for servicemembers and military families," June 28, 2017.

Salaries of U.S. Senators on the federal government website.

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No, Tillis didn't oppose military raises or boost his own pay

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