The first shots in the annual defense-budget battle arrived just two weeks into the year, in the form of a blunt statement by Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations: “We need more money.”
Now a group of progressive lawmakers say defense spending should be cut, and the money put toward the coronavirus response.
The 29 Democrats call on the leaders of the House Armed Services Committee to enact defense spending “below last year’s authorized level.”
Congress approved $738 billion in defense spending in fiscal 2020; the Trump administration has asked lawmakers for $740.5 billion in fiscal 2021. The Pentagon’s share of the 2021 budget proposal is $705.4 billion, so it’s already lower than this year’s $713 billion budget. It’s also worth noting that Congress gave the Pentagon an additional $10 billion in March as part of its $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus, and that lawmakers have agreed to cap 2021 defense funds at $741 billion.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers, such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., from calling for more Pentagon money. Cotton is pushing legislation that would put $43 billion toward countering China.
“We see this as a preemptive negotiation,” Cowen & Company analyst Roman Schweizer wrote in a May 20 note to investors of the progressive’s call to cut defense spending. “Passage of the final defense authorization & appropriations bills won't be along party lines; both will ... need to be bipartisan. We still question timing & leverage: passage before/after the election.”
Schweizer writes that the group of lawmakers “would cut defense under any circumstance.”
Not surprisingly, the military leaders don’t want their budget cut.
“To me it’s the wrong time to be making defense cuts because I want to be able to deter any type of great power conflict,” Gen. Stephen Wilson, the U.S. Air Force vice chief of staff, said Wednesday at a Mitchell Institute event.
“Today the force is old and the force is too small. We would argue this is not a time to be advocating for defense cuts and we need to stay the course,” Wilson said. “We have a good plan to build the Air Force we need and we need to continue on that plan to do just that.”
Dave Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who is dean of the Mitchell Institute, argues the Pentagon’s should align with the military’s duties outlined in the National Security Strategy.
“If we’re going to meet the demands of the National Security Strategy, we need to resource it to be able to do that,” Deptula said. “Or, the other choice is, you change and lower the demands of the National Security Strategy.”
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