Defense Budget Battle Looms

Defense Budget Battle Looms

DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

Lawmakers on the left and the right are already taking positions on the upcoming defense budget, Joe Gould and Leo Shane III of Defense News report, pushing in opposite directions on the single largest component of discretionary spending in the federal budget. Progressive Democrats are looking for ways to trim spending, while conservative Republicans are raising alarms about potential threats as they push for increases in the Pentagon’s budget.

One point of contention involves the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which could be completed as soon as July. The move is expected to produce savings of as much as $50 billion, and House Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Mark Pocan (D-WI) wants to use that “peace dividend” for domestic purposes, including health insurance and housing.

At the same time, Republicans in the Senate are calling for more spending on the military. “China’s long-term military investments are paying dividends that should alarm us. But Democrats want to pump the brakes on our own?” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week. “Fewer resources for our own men and women in uniform? Less defense innovation? What sense does that make?”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also invoked China as he called for more spending. “We know the best signal we can send China is a strong military, but a strong military is not free,” he said last week. “I’ll continue working with my colleagues to ensure we are giving our military the resources they need to deter Chinese military aggression and defend our country.”

Ultimately, moderate Democrats including Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) will have to find a way to satisfy both camps on a defense bill that could be upwards of 4,000 pages long. “The bill never passes if it’s not bipartisan, we all understand our responsibility,” Smith told Defense News. “And that’s [Republicans’] incentive: we want to pass a bill. And there are thousands of things in that bill ― or hundreds ― that are important, on a whole series of policy levels, on a bipartisan basis.”