US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin awaits the arrival of French Minister of the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on November 30, 2022.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin awaits the arrival of French Minister of the Armed Forces Sebastien Lecornu at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on November 30, 2022. STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Austin Urges Congress to Pass a Budget, Citing China Threat

But the secretary left inflation, supply chain, and worker woes out of his speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum.

SIMI VALLEY, California — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged lawmakers to pass a full-year defense budget arguing investments in new, more modern weapons are needed to counter China and Russia.

Austin’s remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum here came hours after the U.S. Air Force unveiled the B-21 Raider, a new stealth bomber specifically being billed as a weapon to counter China.

“Let me urge Congress to pass an on-time appropriation so that we can get the capabilities to further strengthen our deterrence,” Austin said.

Congress has not passed a budget for 2023, already two months into the fiscal year. Lawmakers have instead passed a continuing resolution, a temporary spending measure that funds the government at current levels through Dec. 16. The balance of power in Congress will shift in the new year as Republicans take control of the House, while Democrats will maintain control of the Senate. If Congressional Democrats cannot muster the votes to pass a budget in this session, Republicans will have a chance to block Biden administration priorities and push for their own. 

Not mentioned in Austin’s speech to the bipartisan group of lawmakers, industry leaders, and senior defense officials were the high inflation rates, supply chain disruptions, and worker shortages frequently mentioned by defense industry executives.

While one year ago Austin used this same venue underneath President Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One jet to warn against over-hypering China’s weapons advancements, this year the defense secretary referenced a “decisive decade” ahead and called Beijing ambitions the “generational pacing challenge.”

“In recent decades, [China’s] military has embarked on a breakneck program of modernization,” Austin said. “And the PRC is the only country with both the will and, increasingly, the power to reshape its region and the international order to suit its authoritarian preferences.

“So let me be clear: we’re not going to let that happen,” he said.

“These next few years will set the terms of our competition with the People’s Republic of China [and] they will shape the future of security in Europe,” Austin also said, in a reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Still, Austin called the Indo-Pacific region “our primary theater of operations,” echoing the Biden administration's priorities recently articulated in the National Defense Strategy.

“We’re aligning our budget as never before to the China challenge,” he said. And we’re modernizing, training, and equipping the U.S. military for contingencies in the Indo-Pacific.”

In addition to the B-21, a long-range stealth bomber that in the coming years will be able to carry nuclear and conventional bombs, Austin also touted weapons, including new F-35 and F-15 fighter jets, hypersonic missiles, new nuclear submarines, and the artillery being given to Ukraine to fight Russia.

He also spoke of the need to make investments in new technologies, specifically touting the Defense Department’s newly created Office of Strategic Capital — a group tasked with making sure nascent tech that could benefit the military makes it to market.

“This important office will work to secure U.S. private-sector investment in critical defense-technology areas, ensuring that technology developed in America benefits America,” Austin said. “It’s an example of how we’re creating the conditions for innovators to succeed.”