“Defense is not a Biden administration priority,” analysts found on Tuesday when examining President Biden’s newly proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2022 during a virtual event with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). 

Experts weighing in on the panel — moderated by Mackenzie Eaglen — included Todd Harrison, the Director of Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; previous Pentagon Acting Undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) Elaine McCusker; and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John Ferrari.

The $752.9 billion defense budget reflects a 1.6 percent increase from the 2021 budget. This is not enough, McCusker said, to keep up with either inflation, which Ferrari called the “hidden danger that will eat the defense budget,” or the defense budget of China, the growth of which is outpacing that of the United States.

Further, McCusker pointed out that the budget “diverts defense funds to non-defense activities,” cutting $22.8 billion in Systems and $3 billion in Readiness. Instead, one-third of the budget goes to military pay and benefits such as health care, housing, and schools. The budget includes a 2.7 percent pay raise for military and civilian personnel and adds an additional $8.6 billion in family support programs. 

Interestingly enough, the White House budget summary from Friday “mentions no actual military capabilities,” says McCusker, and lists under the heading “Confronting 21st Century Security Challenges” things such as COVID, foreign assistance, the World Health Organization, and establishing a global health security agenda. The budget requests over $500 million for “COVID-19 and pandemic preparedness” and $617 million for “Preparing for, adapting to and mitigating climate change.” 

Harrison noted the budget’s lack of a five-year estimated spending projection: “If I had to give this budget a grade, I would have given it an incomplete.” He claimed that without that projection, it is difficult to see the vision and direction of the budget and how much it intends to depart from the Trump administration’s plan in the long-term beyond its revisions procurement quantities for fiscal year 2022.

As all the panelists mentioned, Biden’s request included the “largest ever” RDT&E (Research Development Test & Evaluation) request of $112 billion, a recognition that the U.S. is lagging in innovative defense research and development and needs to invest to compete effectively in the future. But Ferrari pointed out that current readiness (near-term) and future modernization (far-term) are inextricably linked, and shifting funds from procurement to invest in long-term research invites battles from adversaries such as China or Russia that would have to be funded in the near-term. 

The Department of Defense budget release included a statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: “my chief priority is defending America from enemies foreign and domestic and ensuring our troops remain the world’s preeminent fighting force. The budget … stays true to our focus on the pacing challenge from the People’s Republic of China, combating the damaging effects of climate change on our military installations, and modernizing our capabilities to meet the advanced threats of tomorrow.”

In stark contrast to Austin’s sunny approval, however, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees, respectively, expressed dissatisfaction in a Friday statement: “President Biden’s defense budget request is wholly inadequate — it’s nowhere near enough to give our service members the resources, equipment and training they need…. forcing impossible choices between readiness and modernization upon commanders and troops.” 

They went on to warn Americans that “A budget like this sends China and our other potential adversaries a bad signal — that we’re not willing to do what it takes to defend ourselves and our allies and partners.”

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Jim Inhofe, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) expressed similar concerns: “While President Biden has prioritized spending trillions on liberal wish list priorities here at home, funding for America’s military is neglected…. Talk is cheap, but defending our country is not. We can’t afford to fail in our constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense.”

The budget will be sent to Congress for deliberation and may be altered significantly through deals and negotiations before receiving final approval from Biden, hopefully in advance of the new fiscal year deadline on October 1.

Source: The American Spectator

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