In late July, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a $25 billion increase for the next defense budget.
In the near-unanimous (25-1) vote, the only holdout was Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Still, the vote shows the bipartisan recognition that the Department of Defense requires more resources than President Joe Biden requested.
This spring, numerous Pentagon leaders trudged over to Congress to give testimony on the defense budget. The persistent theme voiced by all was that they had done the best they could within the budget limits imposed by the White House. Witness after witness admitted that the decisions they made were driven by budget constraints that left them unable to meet fully the strategic needs of the nation or the service.
When introducing the Navy’s budget with a reduced shipbuilding account during his Senate Appropriations hearing, the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, confessed, "We are determined to deliver the most ready, the most capable, and the most lethal Navy we can with the budget that we are given."
But there is an enormous difference between a budget that meets a strategy and a budget that does the best it can to meet the strategy within a financial limitation.
It's not just the Navy.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville sounded the same chord at a House Armed Services hearing when he stated: "What we've done within the budget is try to produce the best Army we can within the resources we have." That is hardly a message that will strike fear in the hearts of our adversaries.
All budgets need to be informed by the financial constraints of the federal government. However, for every element of the federal government, except those that provide national security, the Biden administration’s 2022 budget proposal was unfettered by any notion of fiscal constraint. Indeed, it sought record-setting levels of spending for every other agency. Budget challenges for the Defense Department have intensified over the years as the entitlement spending of the ever-growing welfare state increasingly crowds out every other element of federal spending.
Previous secretaries of defense and the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission all judged a defense spending increase of between 3% and 5% above inflation would be necessary to meet the challenges of the next few years. Instead, the Biden administration inexplicably proposed a 2022 defense budget of -0.6%, when factoring in inflation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee started correcting the problem. The rest of Congress should follow their lead.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner