Leading Democrat Slams Biden for Defense Budget Delay

Sen. Jack Reed: 'The longer we're delayed, the less opportunity we're going to have to work out complicated issues'

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jack Reed (D., R.I.) / Getty Images
May 11, 2021

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee criticized President Biden for keeping the committee in the dark on defense plans.

In a Tuesday event at the Ronald Reagan Institute, Sen. Jack Reed (D., R.I.) said the White House's delay in presenting its defense priorities has hindered his committee's ability to do its job.

"We are still awaiting the detailed budget requests from the Biden administration," Reed said. "The longer we're delayed, the less opportunity we're going to have to work out complicated issues."

Traditionally, the White House provides a detailed defense budget request for Congress to mull over early in the year, giving Democrats and Republicans time to come to consensus on difficult choices raised by limited resources. The Biden administration has yet to release its full request.

Reed's criticism followed similar concerns voiced by House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith (D., Wash.). In April, Smith said the White House is "dragging feet" in making its budget available to Congress.

Reed also referenced the "flat" nature of the 2022 defense budget, meaning the budget will not increase in real terms from 2021. Rather than defense, the Biden administration directed massive funds toward infrastructure, welfare, and environmental issues, even as military threats from China and Russia grow. While Reed supports the budget size, he said the limited resources mean the budget is "going to be difficult."

"Both the Defense Department and Congress will need to make tough choices this year," he said.

Reed also addressed the controversial issue of nuclear modernization, saying he hopes to make upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal a priority for his committee.

"From my perspective, nuclear deterrence is the bedrock of our national defense," Reed said. "[Nuclear weapons] must always be ready and capable for use."

The chairman's emphasis on bolstering nuclear weapons is not shared by some senior officials in the Biden administration. Leonor Tomero, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that she expects the Biden administration to review U.S. nuclear weapons with the intention of reducing their role.

Republican defense hawks have blasted President Biden for neglecting the nuclear issue so far, saying his neglect imperils allies and diminishes the United States's military edge. Some have expressed concern over the size of the defense budget, saying Biden has not sufficiently increased it to match extreme threats posed by China and Russia.