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Groups urge Congress to use Afghanistan withdrawal to cut defense budget

Groups urge Congress to use Afghanistan withdrawal to cut defense budget
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Forty advocacy groups from across the political spectrum are pushing lawmakers to use President BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as an opportunity to cut the defense budget.

In a letter being sent Friday to the leaders of the defense appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate, the organizations argue the Afghanistan withdrawal “offers an opportunity to re-examine the nation’s extremely large commitments to the Pentagon budget.”

“We are dismayed that the administration's initial budget blueprint to Congress did not reflect a corresponding reduction in war funds, and instead included a gargantuan request of $753 billion for the Pentagon and affiliated spending,” the organizations wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill ahead of its release.

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“We urge the congressional defense appropriations subcommittees to appropriate a lower topline than initially requested by the Biden administration to, at a minimum, reflect cost savings from withdrawing troops from Afghanistan,” they added in the letter to Reps. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumProgressives ramp up scrutiny of US funding for Israel Overnight Defense: Groups use Afghanistan withdrawal to push for defense budget cuts | Confederate renaming effort could affect 'hundreds' of military assets | Progressives see 'historic' moment to shift US-Israel relations Groups urge Congress to use Afghanistan withdrawal to cut defense budget MORE (D-Minn.) and Ken CalvertKenneth (Ken) Stanton CalvertMORE (R-Calif.) and Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAntsy Democrats warn of infrastructure time crunch Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal 'The era of bipartisanship is over': Senate hits rough patch MORE (D-Mont.) and Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race SEC removes Republican watchdog after progressive lobbying effort MORE (R-Ala.).

The letter was signed by several progressive groups, such as Public Citizen, as well as conservative groups such as the National Taxpayers Union.

“Reducing the Pentagon budget to reflect the savings from ending the Afghan war is just common sense,” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said in a statement. “The Pentagon has no claim on the money that will no longer be spent on that failed war, the taxpayers do.”

Andrew Lautz, director of federal policy at National Taxpayers Union, argued the Afghanistan withdrawal “presents policymakers with perhaps the clearest opportunity in years to reduce the defense budget without adversely impacting personnel, readiness and modernization efforts elsewhere in the military.”

“Unfortunately, rather than grasp at that opportunity President Biden has proposed a defense budget that's essentially flat compared to last year,” he added in a statement.

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The Biden administration is planning to request a $753 billion defense budget for fiscal 2022, $715 billion of which would go to the Pentagon, according to a budget outline released by the White House last month.

The administration has not detailed what the money would go toward, with the full budget expected to be released June 28.

Regardless, it is Congress’s prerogative to approve funding, and lawmakers frequently deviate from or altogether ignore presidential budget requests.

Meanwhile, the administration is in the process of withdrawing the last remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan in line with Biden’s order to be fully out by Sept. 11.

Asked earlier this month whether he expects the withdrawal to free up funding in the defense budget, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Austin says he's 'concerned' about Iranian ships in Atlantic Pentagon chief: Military has already started 'over-the-horizon' operations in Afghanistan MORE said that “certainly anytime you stop doing something that's this important and this big, it creates opportunities.”

“So we'll look at what the possibilities are going forward as opportunities are created,” he told reporters, while declining to “get ahead of the budget process” and discuss specifics.

In their letter, the organization argued that anywhere from $20 billion to $50 billion could be freed up by the withdrawal, citing the amount in the Pentagon’s war fund designated for Afghanistan and analyses on war funds such as from the Congressional Research Service.

Meanwhile, they said, next year’s defense budget request is more than for the departments of State, Justice, Education, Transportation and Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency combined.

“The increase alone in Pentagon spending is more than the entire budget for diplomatic programs at the State Department - despite the fact that robust diplomacy in Afghanistan will be needed both during and after the troop withdrawal,” the organizations wrote. “As such, we urge you to appropriate a lower topline for the Pentagon and associated spending in the final FY22 budget than that requested by the Biden administration.”