What Congressional Funding Reveals About America’s Military Priorities


ONENYONE WHO has observed that for the past decade, Congress is familiar with the eleventh hour, slapdash policymaking. The National Defense Licensing Act (NDAA) – the annual defense policy bill and one of the few routine bipartisan laws – follows a familiar pattern. After months of delays in which one of the largest budget categories was deferred in favor of other democratic priorities, the Senate appeared to be scrambling to get a $ 768 billion defense bill passed in fiscal year 2022. The leaders of both parties finally reached a compromise and the law became law this week Adopted in the House of Representatives. In the midst of the mess, it was easy to miss what congressmen were supposed to have the mammoth defense budget for. The pursuit of money shows where lawmakers see American defense priorities.

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From a distance, the budget appears to be driven by a growing bipartisan consensus that America must stand up to China and spend more on it. Take a closer look, disagreements abound. How exactly the country should compete with its Pacific rival divides the two parties. Even as America begins a new competition in Asia, lawmakers have no agreement among themselves or with President Joe Biden on how to address other pressing issues, particularly a revanchist Russia. Nor have they proven themselves able to end the war on terrorism or vote to continue it.

The spending habits of the current Congress are bipartisan when it comes to security. Mr Biden’s defense budget, released in May, included only a modest increase in an attempt to appease pigeons on his left flank. But the rest of the legislature was not satisfied. Both chambers added $ 25 billion to the president’s proposal. The overall package is now the largest in a decade, the result of growing concern on both sides of the aisle in Congress that America is losing its military advantage, particularly on the high seas.

In order to compete with their Chinese competitors, the American armed forces have to abandon older weapon platforms in favor of more modern, such as unmanned ships. Legislators have long been skeptical of this move, in Pentagon jargon “sell to invest”. Bryan Clark of the Hudson Institute, a think tank, believes this skepticism is justified. “You feel like the military has taken this route several times and said the next one is so much better, but then it never arrives.”

Following this logic, Congress is giving the Pentagon significantly more money to buy proven designs and strengthen the American presence in the Pacific. In addition to securing 13 new ships, including three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and two Virginia-class submarines, the law would allow the procurement of 347 aircraft, well above the Pentagon’s original requirement of 290. This builds up a clear preference for the Navy and Air Force from the end of the Obama administration, with spending for the former rising 62% since fiscal 2015. That, coupled with $ 7 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a fund designed to strengthen regional allies, is a measure of Congress’s interest in a robust military response to growing Chinese power in Asia.

However, beneath this consensus lies disagreement. Increased defense spending has been opposed by the progressive left and libertarian right, who advocate diplomacy, reflecting the foreign policy reticence that is gaining broader resonance in Washington. the US The Innovation and Competition Act, an industrial policy bill formulated in anti-Chinese terms and championed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, was separated from the Defense Act after opposition from some Republicans spying on a new form of corporate welfare. An attempt to ban the trade in slave labor in China’s Xinjiang region met faint opposition from the White House and helped bring down Senate negotiations only to be neglected in the draft compromise.

And while Congress is keen to spend money on new equipment, members are less enthusiastic about making the difficult decisions required to rebalance the armed forces and put them on solid financial footing. Seamus Daniels of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, notes that labor costs are nearly a third of the Pentagon’s budget, a number that has continued to rise in decades despite America’s fewest troops. These commitments to current and retired warriors (who cost more due to health issues) are crowding out funding for new weapons and research, but Congress refuses to address such a politically sensitive issue. Even as lawmakers push funding for new systems, they show little appetite for abandoning aging systems like the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, resulting in a persistent drain on scarce resources. “If Congress allowed divestments, the Air Force could get whatever it wanted without increasing the budget,” says Travis Sharp of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Although Mr. Biden wants to focus on China, Congress has other ideas. While the president seeks to both reassure European allies and ease tensions with Russia, lawmakers are taking a more maximalist approach. The Defense Act provides for US $ 4 billion for European defense and US $ 300 million for the Ukrainian armed forces, both larger sums than the president had requested. While many lawmakers from both parties have backed sanctions against companies connected to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Republicans proposed an amendment that would have overridden Mr Biden’s waiver of current sanctions, making Democrats a difficult one Would have forced a vote. The measure did not make the final text.

Politics also complicate efforts to address the ongoing costs of the war on terror. The bill would require the Air Force to continue the acquisitions MQ-9 Reaper, a drone platform used for counterterrorism operations but derided by the Air Force as expensive and vulnerable in a great power conflict. Despite America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and a smaller presence in the Middle East, Congress has kept army’s funding largely intact. Although a broad bipartisan group of senators advocated lifting the redundant authorization to use military force against Iraq from 2002, the move was left out. The bill also reaffirms the long-standing provision prohibiting the president from transferring Guantánamo prisoners to mainland courts to ensure the prison stays open.

Despite, or perhaps because of, broad support for defense spending, hundreds of amendments were tabled in both chambers of Congress, many of which were only tangential to defense. “It’s becoming a vehicle for everyone to legislate,” says Mr. Clark. After the bill is passed, Congress has yet to use the funds it has in the NDAA. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned lawmakers in a public statement that non-compliance would be catastrophic. After Congress tabled a large bill, it has yet to be settled. â– 

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This article appeared in the USA section of the print version under the heading “Money For Something”


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