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Biden's defense budget concentrates on rising threats from China, Russia

President Biden proposed a more than 3 percent increase to the defense budget on Thursday, pushing up the Pentagon’s spending amid heightened tensions with China and Russia. 

The Biden administration’s fiscal 2024 request for the Defense Department, released Thursday, comes in at $842 billion, which is $69 billion more than the $773 billion sought in fiscal 2023. Congress eventually approved $816 billion for the Pentagon in the last fiscal year, with all defense-related spending totaling $857 billion.

This year’s military request is unlikely to appease Republicans, who last year slammed Biden for proposing a defense budget they said failed to account for inflation and have raised concerns about “woke” Pentagon programs.

Considering inflation, this year’s budget request is actually a small cut, according to Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“For defense, this is a pretty substantial step backwards,” Cancian told The Hill. “I think the administration strategy is what they’ve done for the last couple of years, including the end of the Trump administration, which is project a flat topline and then have Congress bump it up.”

When combined with further requests for nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy, expected military aid for Ukraine and anticipated congressional add-ons during the negotiation process, those additions could push total national defense spending well past $900 billion in the next fiscal year. 

Countering China, raising pay

The White House defense budget prioritizes spending to take on China, including in the Indo-Pacific. Biden proposes investing $9.1 billion for the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative, meant to maintain and bolster a U.S. military presence in the region. Another $400 million will go toward a fund authorized by Congress to outcompete Beijing in military, economic and technological sectors.

Biden is also requesting more than $6 billion to support Ukraine, European ally nations and the NATO security alliance.

The request includes $170 billion for Pentagon weapons procurement and $145 billion for research and development — both record increases — as well as $37.7 billion to continue modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

And Biden offers to boost U.S. troop and civilian workforce pay by 5.2 percent, in what would be the largest military pay increase since 2002 and the largest civilian pay increase in 40 years. The pay increase is also driven by inflation.

Critics on both the left and the right have raised concerns as the Pentagon’s budget has steadily increased toward $1 trillion. 

But those who favor defense cuts have so far been drowned out by lawmakers who argue higher defense spending is needed to counter Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s aggression in the South China Sea, and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. 

During Biden’s first two years in the White House — when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate — Congress still boosted the Pentagon’s request by tens of billions of dollars.

Biden on Thursday said his next budget “cements our commitment to confronting global challenges and keeping America safe.”

“It outlines crucial investments to out-compete China globally and to continue support for Ukraine in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression,” the president said in a message to Congress.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the budget request “provides the resources necessary to address the pacing challenge” from China, improve modernization efforts and “ensure operational resiliency amidst our changing climate.”

“It also provides critical resources to promote the continued strength of our alliances and partnerships while strengthening our partnerships across America and unity within the Department of Defense,” Austin said in a statement.

GOP slams budget proposals

Biden’s wider budget is likely to be dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled House, with Republican lawmakers vowing to make cuts in nondefense programs to help curtail federal spending. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has already pledged to cut at least $130 billion from non-discretionary spending coffers.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also said Thursday’s budget proposal fails to take national security threats “seriously.”

“A budget that proposes to increase non-defense spending at more than twice the rate of defense is absurd. The President’s incredibly misplaced priorities send all the wrong messages to our adversaries,” Rogers said in a statement.

Republicans have taken aim at climate change policies and diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the Pentagon, but they are generally opposed to large defense cuts.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, greeted the proposal with more applause, calling it a “strong budget” request that is “prioritizing the safety and well-being of the American people.”

“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. I say America’s defense budget Other parts of the budget focus on building up the defense industrial base, including on munitions production, a concern as stockpiles for some munitions have run low amid continued U.S. support to Ukraine.

More details on the budget are expected on Monday, with the debate over it expected to last until late in the year.

Source: The Hill

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