Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike
President Biden’s proposed defense budget was criticized Friday by progressives who say it’s too high and Republicans who say it’s too low.
In a budget outline released Friday, Biden proposed a $753 billion defense budget for fiscal 2022, including $715 billion for the Pentagon.
The numbers represent a slight increase compared to this year.
But the increase roughly follows the rate of inflation — a far cry from both the 3 to 5 percent hike above inflation Republicans pushed for and the 10 percent cut that progressives sought.
While the White House proposes a budget, it is up to Congress to fund the government, and lawmakers routinely deviate from, or sometimes simply ignore, presidential budget requests.
Progressives said Friday they were dismayed at the increase.
“At a time when his own Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, recently criticized a federal budget that is basically ‘military and pensions’ without building our productivity capability here at home, it’s disappointing that President Biden would propose a budget of $715 billion for the Pentagon, an increase of 1.6% over Trump’s $704 billion budget, instead of working toward returning to the Obama-Biden era spending levels,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed “serious concerns” with the defense request.
“At a time when the U.S. already spends more on the military than the next 12 nations combined, it is time for us to take a serious look at the massive cost overruns, the waste and fraud that currently exists at the Pentagon,” Sanders said in a statement.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who was one of the organizers of a letter to Biden earlier this year calling for him to “significantly” cut defense spending, called the proposed increases “unacceptable.”
“A proposed increase of $13 billion in defense spending is far too much given its already rapid growth at a time of relative peace. We cannot best build back better if the Pentagon’s budget is larger than it was under Donald Trump,” Pocan said in a statement.
“We recognize that non-defense spending has a proposed 16% increase, versus the 1.7% increase in defense spending,” he added. “But increased spending on the Pentagon on fraud, waste, and zero accountability is still just that, and takes away from funding that could be spent on other people-centric policies like healthcare, education and housing.”
Earlier on Friday, an administration official responded to progressive criticism by arguing the budget works to bring non-defense spending “back to its 30-year historical average.”
“Part of what I hope people take away from this is we have to look at both what we are presenting on the non-defense and defense sides of the equation,” the official told reporters. “I think part of the complaints had been that there was not the same investment levels on the non-defense side. That is clearly not the case in this budget request.”
The official added “a large chunk” of the increase in the defense budget “is to pay for the pay increase for men and women in uniform and the civilians that support them.”
The outline released Friday provided no specifics on what the money would be used for, with a more detailed request expected later this spring. But the document broadly highlighted priorities including competing with China, investing in the U.S. Navy fleet, continuing nuclear modernization and mitigating the effects of climate change on Defense Department facilities.
Republicans, though, argued Friday that Biden’s request is insufficient to compete with China.
In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services, Intelligence, Budget and Appropriations committees said the proposed budget sends “a terrible signal not only to our adversaries in Beijing and Moscow, but also to our allies and partners.”
“President Biden recently said, ‘If we don’t get moving, [China] is going to eat our lunch,’ ” McConnell and Republican Sens. James Inhofe (Okla.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) said in the statement.
“Today’s budget proposal signals to China that they should set the table. While President Biden has prioritized spending trillions on liberal wish list priorities here at home, funding for America’s military is neglected,” they wrote.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, similarly said in a statement that “the Biden administration has talked a big game towards China. Unfortunately, the release of their skinny budget today indicates it is just talk.”
Rogers also invited Democrats to join him to “undo the tremendous damage this budget will cause to our military.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, said he was “encouraged” the Biden administration signaled support for nuclear modernization, but was disappointed in the overall lack of growth.
Pentagon “officials and military experts were clear: A 3-5 percent increase in defense spending over the inflation adjusted FY21 enacted level is necessary to keep America and our allies safe,” Turner said in a statement, referring to the amount of annual growth officials early in the Trump administration said would be necessary to properly fund the National Defense Strategy.
“However, President Biden’s proposed ‘skinny’ budget fails to account for this growth, and this could mean cuts to critical programs,” he said.
The outcry Friday from Republicans and progressives indicates a tightrope the White House and congressional leaders will have to walk as they work to pass the appropriations bill through a narrowly divided Congress.
With a 50-50 Senate, Democrats need Republican votes to pass spending bills.
At least one top Democrat with oversight of the defense budget signaled support Friday for Biden’s approach.
“The proposed 1.5 percent increase for the Department of Defense will sustain readiness and modernization while we also focus on divesting from ineffective legacy programs and eliminating wasteful spending,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, said in a statement.