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1.3% worth of gratitude

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Call me cynical, but it sure seems like politicians these days care a lot more about fast food workers than the women and men who risk their lives for this country every day. How else can we explain the bevvy of elected leaders who are fighting for or have already secured a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers in their cities or states? How else can we explain the measly 1.3% pay increase Congress has just agreed to for our troops?

You read that right. While it's easy to find lots of politicians advocating for what amounts to a 100% raise for the lowest level fast food workers, our armed forces personnel are getting next to nothing. This isn't about finding no value in the efforts fast food workers put into their jobs each day, but it is about what would help the country more economically and politically.

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Earlier this year, I made the economic argument for starting with the troops when it comes to the effort to boost average wages in America. I even made the political and security argument for troop pay raises by pointing out the huge raises President Reagan initiated when he came into office that significantly boosted morale and many experts believe improved the strength of our overall defense. But based on the poor pay raise results for our men and women in uniform in recent years, it's time to make some more pointed political arguments and direct them to the Republican leaders in Congress.

While the GOP seems to be in serious jeopardy of losing its effort to defund Planned Parenthood, just imagine the popular support the Republicans would have received if they had made significant raises for the troops their key issue as opposed to abortion? While abortion and scandalous videos continue to anger and tear the culture warriors in this country apart, bipartisan voter support for our people in uniform remains high. Railing against Planned Parenthood is the kind of thing you do in campaign rallies or in TV interviews. But in the halls of Congress, you can make a real impact by pushing for the kind of increased government spending most people will support. It's not about compromise or appeasement, it's about a budget move that gets you a lot more bang for your buck. And cynically, if a deal can't be reached then let President Obama and the Congressional Democrats take the fall for vetoing or blocking this kind of popular move to support our fighting forces.

The good news is that with Speaker John Boehner's departure, there's a pro-defense spending block of Republicans hoping to elect Rep. Steve Scalise as the new House Majority Leader. If Scalise wins that role, there's a much better chance a decent military pay raise will be in the cards for next year. And Scalise would likely have a partner in Speaker-apparent Kevin McCarthy who comes from the defense-industry rich state of California. At least the playing ground will be more favorable.

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It's a sad fact of politics that to be successful you can't always choose to fight the most important battles, you have to choose the most winnable and emotionally resonant battles. But fighting for decent pay raises of 5% or more for the troops is important, winnable, and resonant; a political no-brainer. Maybe someone in the White House and the new Republican leadership will figure this out.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.