Capitol Hill is gearing up for a showdown over the Pentagon budget as progressive lawmakers urge President Joe Biden to slash spending, even as Republicans stress the need to compete with China.
"They [China] are spending to surpass the United States, and I'm afraid their doctrine will be to 'dominate through strength,'" Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Thursday during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Institute.
"We will not allow China to become our peer military," he added. "The problem with decreased or flat defense budgets is that our adversaries aren't looking at cutting defense spending. It's the opposite."
Key Republicans have been pushing Biden to boost the defense budget by 3% to 5% to grow capabilities in cyber, space and naval warfare, and to modernize nuclear weapon capabilities.
We can't build back better if the Pentagon’s budget is just as big as it was under Donald Trump.@RepBarbaraLee, @RepAuchincloss and I led 50 of our colleagues urging @POTUS to cut this year's defense budget.— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) March 16, 2021
Let's prioritize the American people over defense contractor profits. pic.twitter.com/NKjdGajfku
This week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made a similar call, challenging the Biden administration not to listen to the progressive wing of Congress as it urges drastic military cuts.
"Our financial commitment to defending America is our most important policy lever in this competition," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "Our allies and adversaries do not heed American presidents because they're charming or good-looking. The world has respected America for our overwhelming military and economic superiority. When that edge erodes, we invite trouble."
The calls to boost spending come after 50 House progressives called on Biden to gut the $700 billion-plus Defense Department budget, potentially by as much as 10%.
"We urge you to seek a significantly reduced Pentagon topline," Democrats wrote to Biden. "We could cut the Pentagon budget by more than 10% and still spend more than the next ten largest militaries combined."
The letter was spearheaded by Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Mark Pocan, D-Wis.; and Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass. It was also co-signed by prominent progressives such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Biden predicted to Stars and Stripes in September that the Pentagon's budget would likely creep up during his administration to boost emerging methods of warfighting.
Last month, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he expects "tighter budgets going forward, more flat than rising" as the federal government juggles Defense Department modernization efforts to compete with near-peer threats after unprecedented spending for economic recovery efforts amid the pandemic.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.