Democrats in Congress have adopted a simple if cynical strategy to continue growing the national debt: just threaten that any spending cuts will lead to China’s world domination.
In mid-March—six weeks before House Republicans’ spending bills were available—Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., said those bills would “give the Chinese government our spot as the global superpower of the 21st century.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, introduced Republicans’ spending bill for U.S. diplomatic activities in late June. Democrats’ top appropriator, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said the measure would abandon “America’s position as the leader of the global community to our adversaries.”
The Democrats’ messaging discipline was impressive, but the argument was not.
In fact, the new bill from Diaz-Balart’s state and foreign operations subcommittee would make unprecedented trade-offs to prioritize the Indo-Pacific—the front line of the New Cold War with China. It also would spin up new national security efforts to strengthen America’s regional allies.
As the so-called SFOPS bill funds almost all of America’s nonmilitary tools to counter China globally, diplomatic spending is a critical component of the United States’ national security capabilities.
The Heritage Foundation’s recent landmark report “Winning the New Cold War: A Plan for Countering China” pointed out an ongoing strategic failure of diplomatic spending: Multiple presidential administrations have correctly identified the Indo-Pacific as our top national security and foreign policy priority, but failed to reflect that new reality in their budgets. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
Take foreign aid, for example, a component of diplomatic spending. Even as the federal budget grew in recent years, the Indo-Pacific continued to receive less than 10% of spending on foreign assistance.
The Indo-Pacific was underprioritized even when diplomatic budgets were growing, so simply spending more isn’t the answer.
Heritage’s report pointed out that congressional appropriators would need to make tough trade-offs to ensure that the U.S. has adequate resources to counter Chinese hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, sustain U.S. partners and allies living in China’s shadow, and provide regional capitals with a diplomatic and economic alternative.
To reflect current national security priorities, we argued that the share of foreign assistance spending for the Indo-Pacific would need to increase even as Congress works to rein in overall deficit spending.
The new Republican bill meets that standard. The House Appropriations Committee stresses what it calls “$4.4 billion for United States national security interests in the Indo-Pacific and to counter [China’s] malign influence.”
This amount is $1 billion above President Joe Biden’s budget request, the panel notes, even as the bill would cut more than $7 billion compared to last year’s diplomatic spending. This is a benchmark worth bragging about.
U.S. foreign aid to the Indo-Pacific has hovered around $1.5 billion or less in recent years. The $4.4 billion figure includes operating expenses and a large new initiative, so it doesn’t reflect only more spending on foreign assistance.
The details won’t be fully known until the bill is marked up in the full House Appropriations Committee. Nevertheless, the legislation represents a notable increase in resources and a strong top-line number for the Indo-Pacific.
Prioritization of the Indo-Pacific also is borne out in the details of the bill. Funds to carry out the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act—a catch-all category for foreign assistance programming in the Indo-Pacific–is set at over $2.1 billion.
This would be a meaningful increase over the $1.7 billion of similar spending last year from the Democrat-controlled House and $1.8 billion in the last omnibus spending bill.
Foreign Military Financing, or FMF, a foreign aid tool used to increase U.S. partners’ military capabilities, never has been more critical, since our Indo-Pacific allies face increasing military aggression from China.
The Republican bill dedicates $6.7 billion for FMF globally, $650 million above last year’s Democrat spending. Almost all of that increase is directed toward the Indo-Pacific.
This increase covers two critical new items.
The first is a $500 million allocation to begin funding the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act, a huge step toward getting serious about the most urgent threat to security in the Indo-Pacific. The Taiwan bill passed in late 2022 authorized FMF grants for the first time to accelerate the defense of Taiwan, but was not funded in the last omnibus.
Also newly included is $40 million in Foreign Military Financing for the Philippines, a powerful tool to capitalize on revitalization of the U.S.-Philippines alliance as Manila grapples with increasingly aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
The bill also would make a $1 billion down payment to fund the Compacts of Free Association, which are long-term agreements with Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia that involve intimate security cooperation and exclusive access for the U.S. military. Among other benefits, the compacts grant the U.S. critical basing opportunities in the region while denying China a foothold in the Pacific.
The $1 billion included in the Republican bill would be freed for dispersal if the compacts are approved by Congress this year, with a September deadline looming.
These are bold, important, and overdue moves to advance the U.S. national interest in a region that successive U.S. administrations have deemed a top priority.
Even when Congress’ easy solution was simply to spend more, these priorities still weren’t being addressed. Providing resources requires making trade-offs between competing interests, and Diaz-Balart should be applauded for that leadership.
As the appropriations process plays out, both sides of the aisle will continue to accuse the other of going soft on the threat from China. Pay attention, though, to who actually makes the tough calls to do something about it.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal