Defense Spending On Track for a Big Boost

Defense Spending On Track for a Big Boost

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

The defense budget is on track for a big boost next year.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, last month voted 23-3 to advance a $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act, endorsing a $25 billion boost to the Pentagon budget compared to what President Joe Biden proposed and a $37 billion increase over the fiscal 2021 level.

Key Democrats now acknowledge that the defense budget will likely go up in order to smooth the path to a broader budget deal.

“People are looking ahead at the final budget resolution, and the Republicans have made it clear that they’re not satisfied with the defense number and they would require more,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the other day, predicting that the additional $25 billion will be included in the Senate appropriations bill. And House Armed Services chair Adam Smith reportedly also said it’s likely that his panel’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act will provide more than Biden requested.

“The people who want to spend more than the Biden number have built a lot of support, and yes, I think that [$25 billion increase] is a potential bipartisan pathway,” Smith said, according to DefenseNews. “I don’t support it, I don’t think that’s where we should go, but at the end of the day, I have one vote.”

Key Republican looking for more: While Biden proposed a 16% hike in non-defense discretionary spending and a 1.6% boost on the defense side, some Republicans have demanded that the defense increase match that for non-defense, arguing that the Pentagon needs the funding to properly prepare for the threats from China and elsewhere. The $25 billion boost represents a 5% increase.

That “parity” likely isn’t in the cards, but Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AK), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that he wants an even bigger hike than the Senate Armed Services panel recommended.

“Shelby’s comments show how the Armed Services Committee’s overwhelming and bipartisan support for that bigger increase to the defense budget might have raised the floor for defense spending in behind-the-scenes negotiations — and Republicans certainly see it that way,” Roll Call’s John M. Donnelly and Jennifer Shutt say.

The bottom line: Democrats are divided over the defense budget, with progressives pushing back against increases while centrists are open to them. But it’s looking increasingly likely that lawmakers will approve the $25 billion boost, though a bitter partisan fight could still be ahead. “If a top-line boost is unavoidable,” DefenseNews’s Joe Gould wrote this week, “it looks like the next fight will be about how to spend it.”