It is often said that a good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied. If that is in fact true, then President Joe Biden's first defense budget must be a good compromise because lawmakers in both parties are about as dissatisfied as they could be.
Biden released his first military budget just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and it could be memorable in that many of his fellow Democrats are unhappy that he increased defense spending; while many Republicans were left equally unhappy that the increase of just 1.6 percent was the smallest increase of any federal department.
Battle lines are now drawn on both sides.
Progressives reportedly would still like to rein parts of what they have viewed as an ever-expanding military slush fund, while Conservatives have warned that the defense budget is now far too low to counter the growing threat from China and Russia.
"China's long-term military investments are paying dividends that should alarm us," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said ahead of the vote to approve the budget. "But Democrats want to pump the brakes on our own? Fewer resources for our own men and women in uniform? Less defense innovation? What sense does that make?"
Defense News reported that it could be the moderate Democratic leaders who are left to try to find common ground somewhere between the two sides. Biden also ignored the pleas from the most progressive wing of his own party, which had sought to seriously cut the defense spending to pay for more social programs.
President Biden requested $754 billion for the fiscal year 2022 (FY22) military programs budget. That includes $715 billion of the Department of Defense (DoD), along with $15.7 billion for the nuclear weapons programs, which fall under the purview of the Department of Energy.
New taxes on the wealthy and corporations along with deficits are expected to pay for Biden's various programs, including his planned infrastructure plan as well as the defense spending.
Where lawmakers may have already found some common ground is in reigning in waste in the DoD.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has already introduced a bipartisan bill that could punish the Pentagon if and when it fails a financial audit. The measure would call for any DoD agency that fails to obtain a clean audit would have to return one percent of its budget to the Department of the Treasury.
"If we are serious about spending taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively, we have got to end the absurdity of the Pentagon being the only agency in the federal government that has not passed an independent audit," said Sen. Sanders, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Mike Lee, and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden Defense News also reported.
The Pentagon looks to be serious about cutting waste, and in recent testimony before Congress, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he would kill older weapons systems that wouldn't be suitable for today's warfare. However, as Slate.com reported cutting those systems could save just $2.8 billion.
Still, it could be seen as progress, especially as there is only so much money to go around. The Army will see a budget cut as the other services also have ambitious goals, notably an increase in ships in the U.S. Navy.
As Slate.com reported, the budget includes $2.9 billion for a new aircraft carrier, $6.9 billion for two new attack submarines, $2.4 billion for a new destroyer ship, and $1.7 billion for a new frigate.
"Maintaining U.S. naval power is critical to reassuring allies and signaling U.S. resolve to potential adversaries," noted the Biden administration's budget outline. "The discretionary request proposes executable and responsible investments in the U.S. Navy fleet."
The budget also includes $12 billion for eighty-five additional F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, $1.5 billion for 12 F-15EX fighters, and $2.6 billion for advanced helicopters. Just $1 billion was reported to be set aside for upgrades to the Army's M1 Abrams tank.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville has warned that the service may not be able to meet its end-strength goal if its budget stays at the current level, or worse, shrinks.
Still, it could have been worse had the progressives on Capitol Hill gotten their way.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.