Biden Defense Budget Gives China Upper Hand, Republican Hawks Say

Budget proposal could force Navy to cut 11 battle-ready boats

A U.S. Navy exercise / Getty Images
June 5, 2021

President Joe Biden's $6 trillion budget proposal puts money toward universal pre-K and cracking down on the fossil fuel industry but shrinks the Navy's budget for weapons procurement and building warships, leaving it at severe risk in a potential showdown with China.

The Biden budget—released on the eve of Memorial Day weekend—makes major cuts to the Navy in some of its most needed areas, such as building equipment and training sailors. The Navy will need to reckon with a more than 5 percent drop in shipbuilding dollars and the decommissioning of 11 combat-ready ships, including 4 advanced warships.

China, meanwhile, has increased its fleet size at breakneck speed and now touts the largest navy in the world. House Armed Services Committee member Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) said the Biden budget puts the United States in danger of losing a World War III-style scenario.

"At a time when the Biden administration is proposing a $6 trillion budget that would lead to the highest level of spending since WWII, it is simultaneously proposing an inflation-adjusted cut to defense that will reduce our ability to deter WWIII," Gallagher said. "Rather than act with a sense of urgency in order to deter aggression, the administration is kicking the can down the road on naval modernization, cutting Navy and Marine Corps end strength, and failing to fund key priorities outlined by US Indo-Pacific Command. Winter is coming, and we will have no one but ourselves to blame if we are not prepared."

Senior Biden administration officials had shown support for growing, rather than shrinking, the Navy. Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley said a naval buildup is necessary "if we're serious" about "preventing war with China." Henry J. Hendrix, a former Navy captain and vice president of the Telemus Group, agreed with Milley's assessment, saying the Navy is more responsible for confronting Chinese aggression than any other service branch.

"I really expected based upon some of the statements, that there would be a realignment of spending levels for the services, but that did not occur," Hendrix said. "The service that has the most exposure to the Chinese competition has taken a greater cut in personnel and procurement than any other and thus being exposed to the most tactical and operational risk in the current great power competition."

Biden's funding request reverses the defense priorities laid out by the Trump administration. In October 2020, Pentagon officials unveiled a 500-ship Navy plan, known as Battle Force 2045, intended to retain superiority over China on the high seas. American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow John Ferrari said the Biden White House's proposal has rendered such a vision impossible.

"I was surprised the most by how the Navy and the [Biden] administration walked away from what at the end of the Trump administration was the big rollout of the 500-ship autonomous navy, so that was kind of stark in the fact that was missing in the discussion," Ferrari said. "I'm not sure how the Navy moves forward."

House Armed Services ranking member Mike Rogers (R., Ala.) told the Washington Free Beacon that Biden's funding request is disappointing and gives China an upper hand during a critical point in history.

"I am incredibly disappointed that Biden's budget cuts shipbuilding, weapons procurement, and personnel," Rogers said. "China now controls the largest navy in the world, and the United States cannot allow ourselves to continue to fall behind. We are at a critical point in history that will hinge upon the United States’ ability to take on our adversaries in any future battlefield."

Rep. Rob Wittman (R., Va.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee, told the Free Beacon that Biden's budget passes on building ships and weapons systems, the most important measures for standing up to China.

"When it comes to defense and shipbuilding, President Biden's budget doesn't live up to this administration's rhetoric," Wittman said. "Even with $6 trillion in proposed new spending, vital national security measures necessary to counter the growing threat posed by China somehow didn't make the cut. President Biden's unserious budget needs to quickly get serious about the threat posed by China."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.