WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress are blasting the president’s proposed $886 billion defense budget for fiscal 2024 — a 3.3% increase over last year — as insufficient.
Given the defense budget accounts for approximately half of all discretionary spending every year, it’s unclear how Republicans plan to further increase it as the House doubles down on its commitment to enacting about $130 billion in discretionary spending cuts.
“A budget that proposes to increase non-defense spending at more than twice the rate of defense is absurd,” House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said in a statement on Thursday. “The President’s incredibly misplaced priorities send all the wrong messages to our adversaries.”
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, called the budget request “woefully inadequate.” And the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel, Ken Calvert, R-Calif., accused President Joe Biden of “prioritizing misguided domestic spending and partisan priorities over our warfighting needs” amid “rising global threats.”
Furthermore, the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Susan Collins of Maine, told Defense News that she’s concerned the Defense Department top line won’t help the Navy reach its ultimate goal of 373 manned ships.
“I’m just starting to go through the numbers, but I’m very concerned about the inadequacy of the defense budget,” Collins said. “For example, if you look at the Navy, China is on pace to have a 400-ship fleet, and we today have only 296.”
Biden’s proposed defense budget top line, released Thursday, includes $842 billion in Pentagon spending and aims to bolster U.S. deterrence against China in the Pacific region while investing heavily in expanding shipbuilding capacity to increase the naval fleet. Pentagon officials are scheduled to discuss the proposed budget in more detail on Monday.
Elaine McCusker, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon comptroller in the Trump administration, argued the defense budget should be at least $882 billion for FY24. She predicted that a defense spending increase would win out over the pledge from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to cap spending at FY22 levels.
“While there is definitely a strong and legitimate concern about the deficit, it is not yet clear if the idea of returning to FY2022 levels for discretionary spending has broad support once real choices are on the table, or how long it should take get there,” McCusker told Defense News.
McCusker argued that the Pentagon budget request actually amounts to a “$28 billion cut to programs and activities” after accounting for the proposed 5.2% troop pay raise and inflation.
Rogers, Calvert and other defense hawks have argued in the past for an annual 3% to 5% defense spending increase over inflation. Wicker previously argued for a defense budget equal to 5% of gross domestic product, which would come to nearly $1.3 trillion.
A statement from Wicker’s office noted that, “accounting for inflation, the President has now asked Congress to cut military spending for three years in a row, despite a worsening threat environment.”
Republicans and centrist Democrats alike last year hammered the Biden administration for drastically underestimating the inflation rate while drafting its FY23 defense budget proposal.
For their part, Democrats mainly praised the Biden administration’s proposed defense top line.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., called it a “strong budget” and said it “serves as a useful starting point.”
“The President’s defense topline request is among the largest in history, reflecting the reality of the national security challenges we face,” Reed said in a statement. “Some will inevitably say the topline is too much, while others will claim it is not enough.”
Similarly, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington — the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee — said the proposed defense top line “addresses a complex range of national security and national defense challenges, from strategic competition with China and Russia, to addressing challenges posed by rogue actors and violent extremist organizations and climate change.”
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.