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When more is less—this year’s defense budget

President Biden’s proposed defense budget dissatisfies both parties


Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prepares to go before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the military’s proposed budget at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday. Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

When more is less—this year’s defense budget

President Joe Biden released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2023 last week. Notably, he is requesting a 4 percent increase in defense spending. With the proposal coming shortly after the U.S. inflation rate hit 8 percent in February, conservatives argue the defense boost is too little. Most Republicans and left-wing Democrats agree—though for opposite reasons—that the budget blueprint looks good on paper but does not practically help.

The budget allots the Pentagon $773 billion, asking for $6 billion for Pacific deterrence initiatives, $26 billion for space defense capabilities, and a 4.6 percent pay raise for service members. The proposal also includes $11 billion for cybersecurity and the expansion of the Cyber Mission Force, responsible for the military’s cyber combat operations. Biden wants to dedicate $130 billion for military research and development, roughly 9 percent more than last year and the largest investment on record.

Citing recent weapons support sent to Ukraine, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., of the Senate Armed Services Committee praised the administration’s “sound step” of committing to replenishing stocks as global threats increase.

In hearings on Tuesday, Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord admitted the spending proposal was finalized in November and had projected an inflation rate of 4 percent. But since then, inflation has neared 8 percent, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine raised oil prices and created a need for a greater U.S. military presence in ally countries in Europe. Conservative critics say these price spikes diminish the Defense Department’s buying power and offset pay raises.

“Nearly every dollar of increase in this budget will be eaten by inflation,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said at a hearing. “Very little, if anything, will be left over to modernize and grow capability.”

A group of 40 Republicans sent Biden a letter shortly before he released the overall budget proposal to urge him to boost defense spending. Ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., joined Rogers in drafting a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with 23 probing questions about the defense budget, which they said fails to address the reality of inflation.

In testimony on Tuesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley insisted the budget provides enough to keep the forces well-funded and adaptable to new challenges even though it was drafted before the war in Ukraine started.

Although Biden’s plan would fund the creation of nine more battleships and a combined $96 billion for air power and sea dominance, it also retires 24 ships and cuts the number of F-35 fighter jets to purchase from 84 to 61. It also allows the Army and Navy to shrink in size by 5,000 troops, claiming the current job market makes it difficult to recruit.

But retired Maj. Gen. John Ferrari said pay cuts amid increasing global threats are deterring recruits. Ferrari, who served for 32 years in the Army, rising to the rank of two-star general, is a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He told me the administration appears to be promoting a positive message about pay raises and research funding to distract from the holes in its defense proposal.

“We have a poor track record of converting research and development to procurement,” Ferrari said. “We would be better off buying munitions, planes, and ships that exist today, not ones that may exist a decade from now. That’s like inviting Russia and China to battle now.”

But political progressives argue the proposed increases are exorbitant. Within hours of the budget proposal’s release, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus released a statement calling the defense budget wasteful.

“It is simply unacceptable that after the conclusion of our longest war and during a period of Democratic control of both chambers of Congress, the president is proposing record high military spending,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Common Defense, a liberal veterans group, joined 86 other organizations in requesting Biden to lower the Pentagon’s spending plan. “The people of this country require serious, nonmilitary investments to be truly secure, such as pandemic relief, jobs, healthcare, and climate crisis solutions,” the groups said in a statement.

Last year, Congress approved roughly $30 billion more for the defense budget than Biden requested. Todd Harrison, a budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Examiner Congress will likely lean toward a similar increase this time.

“If Congress hadn’t passed more than was asked for last year, it would have been disastrous in the wake of the war and inflation now,” Ferrari said. “We are in the fourth decade of senior Pentagon leaders saying we can buy less today and have more in the future. But Congress will have to step it up this year.”


Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a reporter for WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College graduate. She resides in Harrisburg, Pa.

@CarolinaLumetta

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