Congressional defense hawks say the only cuts to the defense budget that will be considered will be to "woke" programs, saying cuts to the Pentagon would be disastrous as the United States faces down a Russian war in Ukraine and Chinese threats to invade Taiwan.
"As Russia wages war on Ukraine and China eyes a similar move on Taiwan, I can't think of a worse time to cut defense spending than now," Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees America's $400 billion defense budget, told the Washington Free Beacon. Gallagher and other Armed Services Committee leaders, including chairman Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), told the Washington Free Beacon there is zero appetite among the majority of House Republicans to roll back the Pentagon's budget.
As part of concessions to a small group of Republican holdouts during the House speakership fight, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) reportedly agreed to some $130 billion in spending cuts that are expected to impact even traditionally insulated agencies like the Defense Department. The agreement has given rise to concerns the Pentagon's budget could be frozen in place, preventing it from expanding war-fighting priorities amid rising demands due to the war in Ukraine.
McCarthy has said he would only cut the Defense Department's spending on "wokeism" and other projects not impacting war-fighting capabilities. Others, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), said "everything has to be on the table" as the 2023 budget is made. But those with the most power over the Pentagon's budget said they will prevent any cuts that negatively impact an already strained fighting force.
The Biden administration's push to foster a more sensitive environment across the U.S. military has been under Republican scrutiny since the president took office. Hawks have pilloried the introduction of critical race theory books in the Navy as well as mandated gender identity trainings implemented by the Army and Navy.
Republican defense leaders who spoke to the Free Beacon said they see a pathway to compromise with far-right budget hawks. As McCarthy recently proposed, military programs seen as promoting a "woke" agenda, such as diversity and inclusion training, could provide a pathway to satiate members advocating defense cuts as well as those trying to keep the military well equipped to face down Russia, China, and Iran.
"On the House Armed Services Committee—we are laser-focused on the threats we face and the capabilities we need to defeat them," Rogers told the Free Beacon. "We are examining programs to determine if they actually provide the capabilities we need to defeat the threats we face. If they don't, they'll be cut. However, maintaining overmatch with China requires modernizing our military, and we cannot shy away from that investment."
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), also an Armed Services Committee member, offered a similar analysis. Banks, like other GOP hawks, said wide-ranging defense cuts will embolden China and other U.S. enemies.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping "is now planning a visit to Moscow," Banks said, pointing to increased ties between China and Russia. U.S. president Joe Biden "has fomented chaos around the globe," Banks said, "and House Republicans need to be laser-focused on investing in our military and disentangling our defense industrial base from our greatest adversary."
Banks said he "will never vote to cut defense spending, and a large majority of Republicans are in the same boat." But the congressman also said there "are plenty of budget cuts I support that would strengthen our military, like defunding Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the [Defense Department]."
"Wokeness is weakness, and defunding these far-left ideologies will boost cohesion, retention, and morale and make our military stronger," Banks said.
There are concerns that with a slim Republican majority in the House, Republican defectors could team up with dovish Democrats to force defense cuts. "There are places I may actually agree with Republicans on defense cuts," Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.) said last month. "If they're going to look at that and make certain cuts, then let's have that conversation."
"What we saw in the speaker fight was that a relatively small number of Republicans are willing to hold the process hostage out of the desire to make dramatic cuts in the budget," Rep. Adam Smith (D., Wash.), the Armed Services Committee's former chairman, told the Hill last month. "So regardless of what McCarthy did or did not promise, that same group of people can do the same thing on the budget, on the appropriations bills, on the defense bill."
It is unlikely that any Democrat would sign on to cuts that target liberal initiatives such as the DEI office Banks has in his sights, and Republicans think they have a better chance to bring the party together on redirecting funds toward war-fighting rather than making any cuts.
Rep. Mike Waltz (R., Fla.), a combat veteran who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said all flanks of the Republican Party could unite to redirect Pentagon funding to critical war-fighting programs that increase America’s ability to confront China and other threats, such as those posed by Iran in the Middle East.
"I'm in favor of identifying wasteful programs within the [Defense Department] and redirecting those funds to urgent priorities, but we cannot propose broad spending cuts on the backs of our troops," Waltz told the Free Beacon. "We need to ensure our military has the capability to counter China's massive military buildup, Iran's growing nuclear capabilities, the emerging terrorist threat in Afghanistan, and much more."
There are also concerns that potential defense cuts could interfere with efforts to modernize America's military, which has lagged behind similar efforts undertaken by China and other nations in recent years. Military production lines in the United States also have been strained by the ongoing war in Ukraine, where America is supplying a great amount of hardware. Potential cuts to the defense budget could exacerbate these supply-line issues.
"A strong budget ensures that our military forces are always capable of safeguarding the homeland, protecting our national interests, strengthening foreign alliances and partnerships, rapidly modernizing our forces to counter emerging threats, and supporting service-member families and veterans," Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), another Armed Services Committee member, told the Free Beacon.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, a national security analyst with the Hudson Institute think tank, said the American military needs hardware now more than ever, particularly if it is to engage in a showdown with China in the Pacific region.
"In an idyllic world at peace," Heinrichs said, "we could do the hard acquisition reform and gut all of the butter out of a budget that's supposed to be strictly guns, so to speak. But we are not in that world."