WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s first proposed military budget is drawing concerns from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. He wants to spend $753 billion for national defense, $715 billion of that going to the Pentagon’s budget.
It’s a nearly 2% hike from former President Donald Trump’s final budget as president.
But Democrats say, during a time of relative peace, now is the time to shift some of that money to other priorities.
“To have an increase of 1.7%, just the increase in that budget is one and a half times the entire budget of the Center for Disease Control,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. “And I think most people would agree the biggest attack that we've had on this country in the last year has been COVID-19.”
Congressman Pocan called on the White House for months to consider significant cuts in defense spending. After Biden announced the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan by the fall, Pocan renewed his push, hoping some of the money could be diverted to healthcare and other social programs.
“That's a very large figure, $50 billion, that went towards spending in Afghanistan,” he said. “So we just think it makes sense to have that amount reduced or at least redirected towards other things that are in our national defense. I would argue things like climate change and healthcare are in this nation's defense and I still think there's opportunities to redirect some of those Pentagon dollars to those needs.”
While Democrats push back on the White House for spending too much on defense, Republicans say the President isn’t spending enough.
“When you compare the $753 billion Biden top line to the benchmark — a bipartisan benchmark — we set for 3-5% real growth in defense that every military leader, every bipartisan group tells us we need, we're about $25 to $40 billion short,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay.
Gallagher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee says he’s concerned Biden’s proposal doesn’t compensate for potential rising threats.
“For the Democrats who say we're at peace, we're a nation that's been at war for two decades now,” said Rep. Gallagher. "And I worry that any emergence of Communist China, for the first time in a long time, we’ll have a peer adversary that is threatening us and threatening our allies, and the best way to prevent a war is to prepare for it.”
Military leaders testified before Congress last week ahead of the budget roll out, declaring the proposal would meets the moment for current needs and the future.
Congress will spend the summer negotiating a budget deal with the White House.