President Trump bragged Wednesday to troops stationed in Iraq that he had secured them a massive pay raise, repeating a false claim he's made repeatedly on the campaign trail.
Trump made the boast during his first visit as president to troops in a combat zone.
Trump, who spent more than three hours along with First Lady Melania Trump at Al Asad Air Base near Baghdad, addressed several hundred servicemen and women, boasting that he had delivered them “one of the biggest pay raises you've ever received.”
The president also stated — incorrectly — that he had authorized the first military pay increase in a decade.
“You haven't gotten one in more than 10 years,” Trump said. “More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one."
Military pay, in fact, has risen every year for three decades. It was raised 2.4% in 2018 and will rise by 2.6% more in 2019, because of the National Defense Authorization Act signed by Trump in August.
Although the 2.6% increase is the largest in nine years, Trump still exaggerated significantly, claiming that he delivered a pay raise some four times larger than that and, in another uncertain anecdote, that he fought for it over unnamed military personnel who’d wanted a smaller increase.
“They said, ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3%. We could make it 2%. We could make it 4%,’” Trump claimed. “I said, ‘No. Make it 10%. Make it more than 10%.’
“Because it's been a long time. It's been more than 10 years. It's been more than 10 years,” he continued. “That's a long time. And, you know, you really put yourselves out there, and you put your lives out there. So congratulations.”
Presenting himself as an ardent supporter of the military just days after the resignation of respected Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, who cited policy disagreements with the president in an astonishing resignation letter, Trump also repeated another common falsehood — his claim that the new Pentagon budget is the largest increase in defense funding ever.
“We have secured a record increase to our military budget, and we are purchasing all of this great equipment — $700 billion last year; $716 billion — with a ‘b’, with a ‘b,’” Trump said. “We were fought very hard by the Democrats and others. But I said, ‘We have to take care of our military.’”
The figures Trump mentioned refer to budget authority, the amount of money the Defense Department is able to spend — that’s different from the actual amount of money spent, known as budget outlays.
The current budget authority for the Pentagon is not a record.