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Biden defense budget shows partisan split

China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-03-30 09:56

Senator Rick Scott (C) uses a visual aid during a news conference with Senator Roy Blunt (L), Senator John Thune and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell following the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on March 29, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Joe Biden is seeking an increase to $813 billion for defense spending in fiscal year 2023 — which the administration said prioritizes growing threats from China — opinions on the budget highlighted the deep partisan divide in Washington.

Military spending would increase by 4 percent or $31 billion over the spending package signed into law earlier this month. Despite that increase, some proponents of higher defense spending said it was not enough to keep up with the US inflation rate of nearly 8 percent.

A summary of the White House budget proposal — which totals $5.8 trillion — calls China the Pentagon's "pacing challenge". 

"If you look across the board at their capability, their economy, China remains our most challenging strategic threat. That's what the strategy says, that's what the budget says," a defense official told reporters ahead of the budget release.

The House of Representatives' Progressive Caucus, whose numbers include 98 of the 435 US representatives, posted on Twitter that it is "simply unacceptable that after the conclusion of our longest war and during a period of Democratic control of both chambers of Congress, the President is proposing record-high military spending". 

"There are constant calls to answer for how we'll afford lowering costs and expanding access to health care, housing, child care; fighting the COVID-19 pandemic; combating climate change," the caucus said on social media. "Such concerns evaporate when it comes to the Pentagon's endlessly growing, unaudited budget."

The increase in the budget wasn't enough for some on Capitol Hill.

"Our commander-in-chief has again failed to budget for the resources that our armed forces actually need," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. "So even if you accept the White House's rosiest predictions about where inflation is headed, this would amount to a flat funding defense with none of the robust growth we need to keep pace with Russia and China."

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the spending will counter "acute threats" from Russia. The budget summary lists Russia as a "persistent threat" alongside North Korea, Iran and nonstate "violent extremist organizations".

A senior defense official who briefed reporters said that the proposal wasn't intended to increase the size of the US military, but to help modernize it to compete with Russia and China, according to The New York Times.

"The growth in the top line is not about making the force bigger," the official said. "It's about modernizing the force to compete with our near-peer adversaries."

Jack Midgley, a senior fellow in the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for New American Security, told China Daily that the budget was typical of outsize spending on the US military.

"American defense spending is about 40 percent of the entire global budget for defense," he said. "If you think of the total defense spending in the world, it is about $1.1 trillion a year. The American defense budget accounts for quite a large percentage of the total defense spending of the world. That has been the case for decades. And I think it is likely to continue in the future."

The proposal also includes $6.1 billion in funding for Pacific deterrence, including to bolster the defense of Guam and for new missile warning and tracking architecture.

The request includes $6.9 billion to help NATO counter threats from Russia, engaged in a military conflict with Ukraine. The proposal calls for $682 million in funding to go to Ukraine for its security and economy.

Nicolas Davies, author of Blood on Our Hands: The Invasion and Destruction of Iraq, wrote on antiwar.com that a "top priority must be to dismantle the nuclear Doomsday machine we have inadvertently collaborated to build and maintain for 70 years, along with the obsolete and dangerous NATO military alliance".

"We cannot let the 'unwarranted influence' and 'misplaced power' of the Military-Industrial Complex keep leading us into ever more dangerous military crises until one of them spins out of control and destroys us all."

The budget increase Biden wants is nearly 10 percent more over the level approved by Congress for the 2021 fiscal year. Congress still has to approve the budget.

Biden also asked for $4.1 billion to conduct research and develop defense capabilities, nearly $5 billion for a space-based missile warning system to detect global threats, and nearly $2 billion for a missile defense interceptor to protect the US against ballistic missile threats.

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