$715B defense budget takes flak from left and right

The Biden administration is proposing $753 billion in defense spending for 2022, but the plan is taking hits from both the left and right.

The budget, which focuses on deterring near-peer competitors like China and Russia, picks up some of the priorities left off by the Obama administration and fulfills President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to put more emphasis on military families.

About $715 billion would go directly to the Defense Department, while the other $38 billion is spread over different agencies performing defense functions like the Energy Department. The $715 billion is up from the more than $704 billion allocated to DoD in 2021 and $741 billion in total defense spending.

The 1.5% bump essentially adjusts defense spending for inflation.

The budget also gets rid of the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which a White House official called a “budgetary gimmick.” The account was often used to bolster defense spending without triggering sequestration cuts.

“The president believes that this top line figure will help us invest in the core foundations of our country’s strength, and it will advance departmental priorities to defend the nation, to innovate, modernize the department, to build resilience, and readiness to take care of our people,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “It will contribute to our alliances and partnerships to be able to continue to revitalize those alliances and partnerships.”

The plan puts an emphasis on deterring China by posturing the military in the Indo-Pacific region. It also puts weight in research and development by funding federal initiatives that yield high-value technology.

The budget continues the United States’ maintenance of naval power by investing in the Navy’s ship, submarine and autonomous vehicle fleets.

The Biden administration is funding ways to counter emerging biological threats through infectious disease surveillance, biosafety, biosecurity and medical countermeasure research and development.

Harkening back to the Obama administration, the budget puts money in climate resilience and energy efficiencies.

“It is vital to national security that U.S. military installations, and the mission critical capabilities these installations support, are resilient to climate-induced extreme weather,” a summary of the budget states. “The discretionary request supports efforts to plan for and mitigate impacts of climate change and improve the resilience of DOD facilities and operations.”

The plan also encourages DoD to divest from legacy systems and reinvest those savings.

Many in DoD and Congress expected the Biden administration to come out with a relatively flat budget after four years of budget increases under the Trump presidency and heavy spending to keep the U.S. economy afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mainstream Democrats like Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) called the budget an investment in security, values and progress.

“We ask more of our military than ever before. President Biden’s defense budget reflects the realities of global security, the need to take care of those who answer the call of service and the benefits of investing in our defense to every sector of our economy,” Brown said in a Friday statement.

Republicans, who were looking to increase the defense budget, were critical of Biden’s plan.

“President Biden recently said, ‘If we don’t get moving, [China] is going to eat our lunch.’ 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,” Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wrote in a joint statement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and other Republican senators.

“This budget will impact our readiness, dampen our efforts to modernize our strategic weapons, limit our naval and projection forces and prevent the latest innovations and enhancements from getting to our warfighters,” said House Armed Services Ranking Member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).

The plan also got bad marks from the progressive side of the Democratic Party.

“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,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). “I am concerned that this budget will likely include other wasteful spending such as funding the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM missiles that will cost almost $100B (over 10 years). We need a fundamental shift in how we address national security issues and invest in climate action and pandemic response. Those are the issues impacting the security of the American people and will keep Americans safer than spending billions on more deadly weapons.”

Mandy Smithberger, director for the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight, said the budget was a missed opportunity for major reform.

“The pandemic made clear that prioritizing Pentagon spending hasn’t made us safer, and continuing to fund the Pentagon at these levels doesn’t incentivize the department to make the kinds of reforms needed to address a myriad of issues,” she told Federal News Network. “In addition to concerns about buying unaffordable and unreliable weapon systems, this kind of funding continues to encourage punishing OPTEMPO levels and operations that don’t meaningfully contribute to our national security.”

Roger Zakheim, of the Reagan Institute said a recent study by the organization found most Americans support an increased defense budget.

“It seems Defense is the only area of the federal budget that doesn’t qualify as infrastructure, though there are plenty of military infrastructure projects in need of funding,” he said. “At a time when the vast majority of Americans understand the need to increase funding for the military, President Biden’s proposal doesn’t even keep up with inflation.”

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