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50 House Democrats urge Biden to 'significantly' slash defense budget

A group of 50 House Democrats is urging President BidenJoe BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom MORE to “significantly” slash the more than $700 billion Pentagon budget.

“While we are heartened that your administration is not contemplating expanding the Pentagon’s already inflated budget, our new Democratic majorities in Congress along with your administration should go further,” the lawmakers wrote Tuesday in a letter to Biden. “Rather than requesting a flat Pentagon budget, we urge you to seek a significantly reduced Pentagon topline.”

The letter was organized by former Progressive Caucus chairs Reps. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeNew signs of progress emerge on police reform Progressive lawmaker to introduce bill seeking more oversight of Israel assistance Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  MORE (D-Calif.) and Mark PocanMark William PocanProgressives divided over efforts to repeal SALT cap Left feels empowered after Biden backtracks on refugees NIH reverses Trump administration's ban on fetal tissue research MORE (D-Wis.), as well as Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), and co-signed by a cadre of other prominent progressives.

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The letter follows reports that Pentagon officials are crafting a $704 billion to $708 billion fiscal 2022 budget request that is essentially flat compared to this year’s Defense Department budget.

Any effort to slash the defense budget is likely to face strong political headwinds.

Republicans have been pushing Biden to boost the defense budget by 3 to 5 percent, the amount of annual growth officials early in the Trump administration said was needed to properly fund the National Defense Strategy. The strategy seeks to reorient the U.S. military toward competition with Russia and China after decades of focusing on counterterrorism.

With a slim Democratic majority in the House and 50-50 party split in the Senate, Democrats are expected to need Republican votes to pass a defense budget.

Top Democrats, including the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, have also rejected across-the-board defense cuts, saying the budget needs to match a strategy and that they’re expecting a relatively flat budget request from the Biden administration.

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Tuesday’s letter to Biden did not specify how big a cut the lawmakers would like to see, but a news release from Pocan’s office highlights an amendment he and Lee pushed last year that would have cut the overall defense budget by 10 percent. That amendment failed with large bipartisan majorities voting against it in both chambers of Congress.

In their letter, the Democrats argued “part of undoing the damage” of the Trump administration is a reevaluation of spending priorities and that such a reevaluation should “begin with the Department of Defense.”

“Hundreds of billions of dollars now directed to the military would have greater return if invested in diplomacy, humanitarian aid, global public health, sustainability initiatives, and basic research,” they wrote. “We must end the forever wars, heal our veterans, and re-orient towards a holistic conception of national security that centers public health, climate change and human rights.”