- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2021

President Biden has tipped his hand on how much he wants to spend on the nation’s defense, and predictably has left both hawks and doves unhappy.

With Russian troops massing on the border with Ukraine and China making threatening overtures to Taiwan, leading Republicans in Congress are blasting Mr. Biden for submitting his first preliminary Pentagon budget late last week that is essentially unchanged from the last budget under President Trump.

Mr. Biden plans to ask for $715 billion for the Department of Defense, according to “top line” FY 2022 budget summary revealed on Friday. The amount is higher than the $704 billion for 2021 but effectively flat when adjusted for inflation. The administration says the proposal means key investments to defend the nation through “modernization, innovation and enhanced readiness.”

Including non-Pentagon defense spending, including the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs, Mr. Biden is proposing a total of $753 billion for all defense needs — again roughly flat in real terms compared to the current fiscal year.

Liberal Democrats had pushed for a significant cut, while top GOP officials on Capitol Hill were less than impressed, saying, “Talk is cheap but defending our country is not.”

Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, called the Pentagon budget a “bare-minimum approach” to defense spending that “sends a dangerous message of weakness to Communist China and our adversaries.”

“America’s military must remain the most effective, innovating and powerful force in the world,” tweeted Mr. Scott, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the $715 billion budget will help advance key Department of Defense priorities such as funding investments in long-range strike capabilities and modernizing the country’s nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Biden’s proposed budget outline “represents an important investment that will ensure the department’s resources are matched with our strategy and policy to defend the nation and take care of our people, while revitalizing the key alliances and partnerships to succeed.”

In one break with past tradition, the administration is placing the nebulous “Overseas Contingency Operations” funding within the regular Pentagon budget. Critics has said the OCO account, designed to fund unforeseen operations during the year, had become an unaccountable pot of funds the department could dip into without congressional oversight.

While Pentagon officials acknowledges China as the nation’s “pacing threat,” top Republicans say the Biden administration is willing to spend trillions on “liberal wish list priorities” while neglecting to adequately fund the military.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, vice chairman of the Senate intelligence, warned the U.S. isn’t keeping pace. Several lawmakers had earlier advocated for a 3% to 5% increase in real defense spending.

“China’s military investments match its desire to out-compete America and hold our military forces at risk,” the GOP lawmakers said in a joint statement Friday. “President Biden’s budget proposal cuts defense spending, sending a terrible signal not only to our adversaries in Beijing and Moscow but also to our allies and partners.”

Chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Mr. Austin was “grateful” to Mr. Biden for holding the line on defense spending, at a time when prominent Democrats in Congress have been calling for substantial cuts to help finance the White House’s domestic spending priorities.

Although a far more detailed federal budget proposal is still weeks away, Friday’s outline signaled the Biden administration is eyeing some defense savings by phasing out expensive “legacy” weapons programs that many in the military say they know longer need. “The pursuit of our national security interests requires investments that target and align our priorities and capabilities to address the constantly evolving dynamic threat landscape,” Mr. Kirby said.

But many of those weapons and programs have strong backing in Congress and have proven tough for past administrations to abolish.

Mr. Biden is also taking flak on his left front for an essentially stand-pat defense budget.

Erica Fein, advocacy director for the progressive group Win Without War, argued that the greatest threats to global security these days are not military but things like pandemics, the climate and inequality.

“Throwing money at the Pentagon does not keep us safe from modern-day threats,” Ms. Fein said. “We urge Congress to reject the top line Pentagon funding proposal and cut back Pentagon spending to at least the Obama-Biden levels.”

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