WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 made it clear that defense isn’t his top priority, at a time when the Chinese communist regime is building its military power and posing a threat to U.S. security interests.
The president’s budget for the fiscal year 2022, released on May 28, seeks $752.9 billion for national defense, $715 billion of which is for the Pentagon. When compared to the fiscal year 2021 budget, the requested amount for the Department of Defense in 2022 reflects only a 1.6 percent increase.
“Defense is not a Biden administration priority,” Elaine McCusker, a defense budget expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said on June 1 at a virtual event hosted by AEI.
“Defense was the only federal function to not even keep pace with inflation, while domestic agencies went up by 16 percent, including a 41 percent increase for the Department of Education. Also of note, the only federal agency to take a cut at 10 percent was the Corps of Engineers.”
For example, the Department of Health and Human Services would receive a 23.4 percent increase and the Environmental Protection Agency would get a 21.6 percent boost in funding, according to the budget plan.
“And there is an attempt to redefine what constitutes a national security investment to divert defense funds to non-core activities,” McCusker said.
She pointed out there was no mention of military capabilities among critical investments under the heading “Confronting 21st Century Security Challenges” in the budget, while COVID-19 foreign assistance, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund, and establishing a global health security agenda were among the administration’s commitments listed.
Similarly, there was no mention of “border security” in the budget proposal. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security stayed flat compared to the prior year. The budget proposal seeks to set aside more resources toward processing a higher volume of asylum cases and support up to 125,000 refugee admissions in 2022. The budget also provides $10 billion in humanitarian assistance to war victims and refugees abroad.
President Biden’s first budget request also reflects a shift in priorities when compared with budget proposals of former President Donald Trump.
The Biden administration’s budget takes a broader approach to national security, addressing threats such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and “extremism in the ranks,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
The budget would allocate more than $30 million to help the Defense Department improve capabilities to identify and address extremism among troops and enhance training.
Speaking at the event, Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that it’s hard to know the vision of the defense budget, as it hasn’t included the details of the five-year projections.
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) projections showed that the Defense Department budget would grow at a rate of 2.2 percent in nominal terms over the next five years, he noted. However, beyond the five-year period, budget growth would drop to 1 percent.
The good thing about the president’s budget for the fiscal year 2022, according to Harrison, is that it continues to boost the research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) funding.
Biden’s plan seeks $112 billion funding for RDT&E, which is the “largest ever” request, according to the Pentagon.
This investment can put the U.S. military “in a place to modernize in the years to come and to build the types of capabilities that we need to compete effectively in the future,” Harrison said.
However, putting money into research and development may not necessarily lead to modernization and an increase in procurement in coming years, he said.
“So we don’t see if that is their strategy right now,” Harrison said.
Budgets of the Air Force and Space Force were overall winners in Biden’s plan, compared to the Navy and the Army, he said.
While the Navy’s topline budget would increase, the service’s shipbuilding and aircraft procurement funding would drop, according to the president’s budget proposal.
According to a Pentagon report last year, China has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of nearly 350 ships.
Under the Trump administration last year, the Pentagon initiated a program called Battle Force 2045 to address the China threat. The program called for a Navy of over 500 manned and unmanned ships. Biden’s budget showed that the plan has been rolled back.
Speaking at the AEI virtual event, John Ferrari, a retired U.S. Army major general and defense expert at the AEI, said that he was “surprised the most by how the Navy and the administration walked away” from the Battle Force 2045 plan.
“I’m not sure how the Navy does move forward,” Ferrari said. “But, I think the Navy needs to be embracing innovation in the near term, given how long it takes to build ships.”
Inflation is also a big problem for the Pentagon’s budget, given the small increase projected by the OMB in the long term, Ferrari said.
“Inflation is the hidden danger that will eat the defense budget,” he said, noting that the inflation-protected U.S. savings bond is yielding 3.5 percent.
“So if that’s an anticipation of inflation of 3.5 percent, the department is in a lot of trouble.”