BY ELAINE McCUSKER
Last week, the Biden administration released a massive American Jobs Plan. In contrast, today the administration announced a proposed cut to the Defense Department budget. As recommended by the bipartisan Commission on the National Defense Strategy, the Department of Defense needs 3-5 percent real budget growth to provide for the nation’s security, meet international commitments, and remain competitive.
The $715 billion Pentagon topline released by the Biden administration today falls $27 billion short of the minimum requirements of this recommendation and puts the military again on a trajectory of decline. In fact, the budget does not even keep pace with inflation — let alone the routine, unavoidable costs for military personnel and maintenance of aging equipment — further squeezing other areas.
In addition, it is likely the administration will reorient defense spending to stated priorities of climate change and pandemic response and relief, increasing the amount of non-defense spending in the defense budget and further misleading the public about what the nation is investing in its security. Taken together, after losing $7 billion from the original FY 2022 “soft lock” of $722 billion with another couple billion potentially shifted from existing programs to new White House focus areas, the Pentagon could be faced with up to $9 billion in lost dollars, on top of however much must be realigned to continue funding real increases to operations and sustainment activities.
One option might involve pulling dollars away from overseas contingency operations (OCO) spending. During the Budget Control Act decade, contingency funding was used for costs that should have been a part of the base budget. This workaround avoided legal spending limits. But these bills support real requirements that must be paid even if the financing choices — base budget or OCO — are disputed.
The budget proposed today no longer uses the OCO spending category. Funding enduring requirements in the base budget is the right thing to do, so long as that budget is sufficient to cover those costs. Budgets for direct war costs should remain separate to support continued transparency and oversight of these activities.
As defense budget battles this year gain increasingly clear features, it is worth remembering that the new team in the White House is not arguing from a position of fiscal restraint. In the first months of 2021, the Biden administration has already supported a debt-financed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery bill and started drumming up support for another $2.25 trillion infrastructure stimulus. Today’s release would also increase non-defense spending by 16 percent. Cuts to the DoD topline harm national defense and do nothing to serve the economy — security and prosperity are intrinsically linked.
While there is much more to learn, and debate, about the Biden administration’s first defense budget proposal, Congress should know enough by now to see the potential threats to our Armed Forces and national security that come from insufficient budgets for defense.