McConnell Pushes Biden to Boost Defense Spending. The Reason? China.
If China really is such a large threat, it would not make sense to cut military spending.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday appeared to test President Joe Biden’s seriousness about confronting China’s rise in the Pacific region by pushing him to further boost defense spending.
As the new administration’s secretaries of state and defense traveled to Asia to criticize China’s aggressive actions in the region, many House Democrats have urged the president to make significant cuts to the $700 billion-plus Pentagon budget.
“If the administration is up to the task, they’ll find strong partners in this Republican conference,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Here’s one big test: Are they willing to keep investing in our own defense?”
He later added: “If any issue is ripe for a regular-order bipartisan process, it is this one. Defense spending is the crucial first step.”
McConnell expressed his disappointment regarding reports that the Pentagon is in the process of putting together a budget proposal for fiscal 2022 in the range of $704 billion to $708 billion, which could be finalized in a proposal in early May.
It is believed that Democrats will need Republican votes to pass a defense budget this year.
“If the administration is serious about competing with China, deterring Russia and preserving American leadership, the most important test will be in the president’s budget submission,” McConnell said.
“Unfortunately, reports suggest the Biden administration may plan to freeze defense spending. Of course, that means a reduction, after inflation. Dozens of Democrats are pressuring the administration for even steeper cuts.”
Many Democrats, meanwhile, want to redirect any additional defense funding toward tackling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“In the last three years alone—during a time of relative peace—we have increased annual defense spending by more than $100 billion, almost 20 percent,” Democrats wrote in a letter to Biden.
“This has occurred during a period without any military action authorized by this Congress. Right now, the coronavirus is our greatest adversary.”
Recent reports have indicated that the Pentagon is open to the possibility of reducing the aircraft carrier force in order to stay within the defense budget.
According to the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI), one money-saving move could include revisiting a 2019 Trump administration proposal to take the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman out of inventory rather than conduct a mid-life refit and refueling. Another source has stated that the entire shipbuilding budget was under scrutiny.
Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, recently told lawmakers that “there is no capability that we have that can substitute for an aircraft carrier in my view.”
The four-star admiral continued: “You can see by the strain of the deployments over the course of the last year that they are in high demand by all the combatant commanders, and sustaining that capability going forward in my view is critically important. I’m in support of the law which calls for the number of carriers in the United States.”
Rep. Elaine Luria, a former Navy nuclear-qualified surface warfare officer, shared similar sentiments.
“As we look to expand the U.S. Navy’s presence in response to malign Chinese activity and illegal maritime claims, the last thing we should consider is cuts to our carrier fleet,” she said in a statement.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.