Republicans Drawing New Battle Lines in Heated Defense Budget Fight

Rep. Gallagher: Cutting defense budget would be a 'gift' to Chinese military

The Pentagon / Getty Images
March 23, 2021

House Republicans are pushing hard for a large defense budget in the face of growing military threats from China. 

Members of the House Armed Services Committee said a reduction or stagnation in the country's defense spending would play into Beijing's hands. China continues to catch up to the United States in key areas of military strength, such as naval power, high-tech weapons, and infrastructure, as well as its nuclear weapons stockpile. Early reports indicate President Joe Biden's first Pentagon budget could bottom out at around $696 billion, below the $722 billion recommendation from the Trump administration for the 2022 fiscal year.

Rep. Don Bacon (R., Neb.) said failing to support a large defense budget would be "reckless" and threaten to undo years of progress.

"We spent four years digging out of a readiness and training hole and getting our modernization on track. Now the far left wants to take us backward," Bacon said. "They don't believe in peace through strength, and their call for deep cuts is reckless to our nation's security."

Far-left members of the Democratic caucus have renewed their own push to shrink the Pentagon's budget. Rep. Mark Pocan (D., Wis.) and 49 other House Democrats demanded Biden slash defense spending in favor of programs to address climate change, global health, and other issues in a March 16 letter.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) blasted the Democrats' budget reduction proposal as a kowtow to China.

"Cutting the defense budget would be a gift to the People's Liberation Army," Gallagher said. "Progressives just spent $1.9 trillion and are already looking to spend trillions more on a grab-bag of special interest priorities. Yet when it comes to the federal government's most important responsibility, suddenly many of my colleagues on the left are calling for restraint. We must act with a sense of urgency to expand defense budgets and build a military that can reverse this catastrophic trend before we come to regret it."

A leaner budget could still support core programming for the Department of Defense but would place more ambitious—and increasingly necessary—plans to modernize and build out the armed forces on the backburner. Space security is one area that could be weakened by a cut to defense spending.

Longtime space policy officials expect Biden to return to the lax space security policies of the Obama administration. Senior leaders charged with protecting the final frontier, however, are asking for more financial backing than ever before as China expands its operations in space. Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), a House Armed Services Committee member and staunch Space Force supporter, said any attempt to undermine America's support for space defense would only benefit Beijing.

"With China gaining on the United States in its military expansion, weapons development, military space, and space exploration, it would be reckless to scale back America's defense budget to subsidize domestic liberal wishlist items," Waltz said. "We need to continue to invest in modernizing our military forces and ensuring the United States is ahead in space."

In the Biden administration's early months, space advocates have raised questions about a blinkered approach to space security. Press Secretary Jen Psaki openly mocked the Space Force in a February press conference, and Biden nominated former senator Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), a known champion of Sino-American space cooperation, to lead NASA last Friday.

Concerns about the Biden administration's preparedness to counter China's military also extend to the high seas. Members of both parties continue to press the White House to build up the Navy as China sprints toward naval superiority in the Pacific. Senior naval officers warn that China is now eyeing Taiwan, as well as American territories such as Guam and the Mariana Islands, with the largest navy in the world.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R., Va.) said the Navy must be prepared for conflict in the region, and Biden's approach to defense funding should reflect that reality.

"We have pre-positioned supplies and ships that are anchored off of Guam and Saipan: They're targets," Wittman said. "If there's a conflict, we know the first thing that is going to happen: Those ships are gone. ... Every square inch of the Pacific is going to be contested."

Wittman also said his Democratic colleagues would quickly change their tune on defense cuts if they understood this information.

"I can almost guarantee you if they took the time to sit down to get these classified briefs about the extent and nature of the threat, they would probably have a different viewpoint," Wittman said. "Every day the Chinese advance capability. We have to do the same to keep up."

The full defense budget will be released on May 3.