The Democrats’ Dilemma: Support Biden’s Pentagon Budget or Oversize It


Biden is seeking a $30 billion increase from the current year, which would bring overall national defense spending to $813 billion. Despite the steep increase, Republicans are already pressuring Democrats to hand over billions more once Congress begins considering the budget.

That’s what happened last year, when Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees shelved Biden’s lower budget request at the Pentagon and increased spending on the Pentagon. defense. But the math is complicated by the staggering size of demand, high inflation, the ongoing response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the looming midterm elections.

Armed Forces Republicans, led by Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama and Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, are pushing for a 5% increase in defense spending above the rate of inflation and counting again on enough Democrats to take their side. With an inflation rate approaching 8%, such an increase could take the Pentagon’s current budget of $743 billion to well over $800 billion, although Republicans did not give a specific figure.

Rogers told POLITICO that last year’s bipartisan vote to raise the defense bill by $25 billion above Biden’s request “will be a good example of how that’s going to play out.”

“It’s probably a lot like last time,” added Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), an armed forces member who chairs the conservative Republican review committee. “Biden is underestimating him and Republicans are pushing for a much-needed raise, and the way things are going in the world, Democrats are getting on board because they realize we have no choice.”

GOP defense hawks are in tune with the push for more military spending to outpace inflation and address the challenges posed by China and Russia. The 28 House Armed Services Republicans criticized Biden’s Pentagon budget Monday in a coordinated press release ahead of a hearing on the request.

How Democrats will break away on the issue is less clear. A moderate Armed Services Democrat and a key vote, Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia, is already backing the push for another huge defense boost beyond Biden’s level.

“At this point I think we need a real 5% increase in the budget and I think our ultimate goal should be to get to 5% of GDP, or [approximately] $1 trillion,” Luria told POLITICO. “That’s what it will take to modernize the nuclear enterprise…and seriously invest in our shipbuilding and be serious about deterring Chinese aggression against Taiwan.”

Luria, a retired Navy officer who represents the industrial Hampton Roads region, added that she has already discussed a potential budget increase with Rogers and other Armed Forces Republicans.

“We need to start early to make sure we can add what needs to be added,” she said.

A handful of Democratic defections to the Republican side could swing the main debate in the House, where Democrats have just a 12-vote majority and an even narrower margin at the committee level, or in the equally divided Senate.

Fourteen Democrats, including some of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents, backed a $25 billion increase in Biden’s demand in the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. In the Senate, only one Democrat from the armed forces, progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, opposed the increase.

A $1.5 trillion spending deal reached in March went even further, allocating nearly $30 billion over and above the administration’s request.

And just like last year, Democrats’ tight majorities and internal divisions over the defense budget mean Pentagon legislation almost certainly needs GOP votes to pass, giving Republicans leverage over the defense budget. main line and other major policy provisions.

For now, many Democrats say they are focused on budget-funded capabilities, rather than an overall budget.

“This can’t just be a topline debate,” House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told POLITICO. Smith, who has opposed efforts to add money to the defense bill for fiscal year 2022, admitted that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will lead to a larger military posture in Europe and higher defense spending this time around.

“Make sure we invest in information systems and life support equipment and understand how warfare has changed. All of that matters too,” Smith said. “And we want to make sure that we keep that at the center of the debate while we also debate, ultimately, I’m sure, the number.”

The Democratic caucus already faces divisions over the Pentagon budget. Progressive lawmakers have sought to limit, if not reduce, defense spending. That push failed last year when centrist Democrats sided with Republicans to increase the budget. And new spending spurred by the Ukraine crisis has further muddied progressives’ efforts to maintain the Pentagon’s budget.

In addition to regular national defense spending, which totals $782 billion this year, lawmakers have allocated $6.5 billion in emergency funds to position more U.S. troops in Europe, provide weapons and equipment to Ukraine and to replenish Pentagon stocks.

Top lawmakers from both parties have indicated they would be receptive to further demands for money to deal with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the wake of the crisis, most Democrats are ready to accept the $30 billion defense increase proposed by the White House, according to House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky. ).

“I think there’s less resistance to the increase basically because of what happened last month, it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to have an increased presence in Europe,” Yarmuth said. “I don’t think there will be as much pushback as there otherwise would be to increase defense by $30 billion.”

Still, Yarmuth doubts there is momentum in the caucus to give the Pentagon more money than it has asked for.

“I don’t think anyone wants to go any higher,” he predicted.

Again, this is an election year. Some Democrats who have backed giving the Pentagon more money than it requested for the current fiscal year are not ruling out doing it again, while noting that what matters is what the budget buys rather than turnover.

“It sounds simple, but I want to be resourced to counter threats,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.). “And I’m willing to spend the money to do it.”

“Just as the Chinese have invested so heavily in certain technologies, I’m willing to really double down and invest in what we care about, and that often means more money,” she said. “But I also want to see what kind of work the Pentagon is doing to reduce fat.”

Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, a Marine veteran who also supported the Pentagon’s spending increase, called it “absurd to talk about toplines and not talk about what’s in the budget.” Rep. Mikie Sherrill (DN.J.), a Navy veteran, added that she views the budget “not so much on the headline as what we’re investing in.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will argue in favor of the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2023 budget during a House hearing on Tuesday morning. Biden’s overall national defense proposal of $813 billion included $773 billion for the Pentagon, compared to the $743 billion the Department of Defense ultimately received for fiscal year 2022.

The proposed budget is the largest ever in nominal terms, but represents only a 1.5% increase when inflation is taken into account. Republicans say runaway inflation will devour the billions of dollars Congress has poured into the Pentagon — which includes billions for more planes, ships and other weapons systems. Austin and Milley will likely face pointed questions about whether the administration’s request adequately takes this into account and the risks involved in budget trade-offs, such as downsizing Army ranks and early retirement of military personnel. ships.

Yet with a military budget request exceeding $800 billion, some Democrats who once supported more defense spending may only want to go so far.

“I have overall confidence in what the president is asking for and wouldn’t see the need to push this any higher,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), a member of the armed forces who backed a budget of defense higher during last year’s defense policy deliberations.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he was happy with the “fundamentals” of Biden’s budget, including the Pentagon’s main line, but said it “would be premature” to say whether he would support more defense spending.

Individual military services also outline their top priorities that weren’t included in the budget, providing fodder for lawmakers to make additions to the plan. So far, the Navy has sent lawmakers a list totaling $4 billion in unfunded needs and the Marines have identified $3.5 billion in off-budget priorities.

With midterm elections that could return Republicans to a majority in both chambers, lawmakers are unlikely to agree on funding levels for the Pentagon and other federal agencies ahead of the election.

Democrats and Republicans did not reach a final funding agreement with the government this year until nearly halfway through the fiscal year, leaving most military and other federal spending on autopilot for months.

In the end, Democrats agreed to a substantial defense increase in exchange for an infusion of funds for their own priorities on the nondefense side of the federal ledger.

“I think it’s a nation with resources that can do both,” Brown said.


Politico

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