President Joe Biden on Friday issued his first budget proposal, requesting $753 billion for defense-related spending, an essentially flat request compared to current levels when taking inflation into account with a 1.7% increase from the current budget.
The move ignores calls from both defense hawks for significant boosts and from progressives to dramatically slash military spending. Biden's blueprint for the next fiscal year also asks Congress for $769 billion for non-defense programs, amounting to a 16% increase with major boosts to education and efforts to combat climate change; it also allocates the largest investment into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in nearly two decades, according to the White House.
The bulk of that $753 defense spending includes $715 for the Pentagon.The increase might not be enough to keep up with inflation, likely drawing skirmishes from Republicans on Capitol Hill who called for the budget to rise 3% to 5% above inflation.
In recent weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have gone on the offensive, warning Biden that a flat budget, or even a modest raise in spending, would hinder the military's ability to modernize capabilities to compete with China.
Both top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees urged the administration for more investments in cyber, space, naval warfare and modernizing nuclear weapons.
"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 during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Institute in March.
"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."
Progressives have also geared up for a budget battle, with 50 House Democrats penning a letter to Biden last month urging cuts to Pentagon spending. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has long sought to cut the budget by 10%.
"Military spending, now higher than the next 11 nations combined, represents more than half of all federal discretionary spending," Sanders said in a statement last year. "If the horrific pandemic we are now experiencing has taught us anything, it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction."
The president's plan includes $113.1 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an 8.2% increase from the current level. That funding is in addition to the resources provided in the American Rescue Plan.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.