By John Isaacs
On April 9, the Biden administration released a budget outline for the upcoming fiscal year as a preview to its full request which is delayed as is typical in a transition year.
While the details in the “skinny budget” are sparse, the administration has provided topline numbers.
The White House will request $753 billion for defense spending in Fiscal Year 2022, a 1.7 percent increase from the final enacted Trump budget.
The request includes $715 billion for the Pentagon, less than the Trump projected request of $722 billion for Fiscal Year 2021 but more than the Fiscal Year 2021 enacted level of $705.4 billion. The additional $38 billion will come in Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs and a few other miscellaneous defense categories.
The total leaves the hawks unhappy with close to a flat budget and progressives displeased with no substantial cuts from last year’s already excessively high Pentagon budget level. Conservatives are also unhappy because non-defense programs are in for a much larger 15.9 percent increase.
As the Biden team reportedly originally projected a Pentagon budget request of between $704 to $708 billion, it appears that the Defense Department fought hard in the interagency budget wars and won a bump up from the earlier suggested amount.
In a positive development, the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, originally established to pay for the overseas wars but long regarded as a slush fund for the Pentagon’s wish lists, has officially been consigned to the dust bin of history – if Congress goes along, as it is expected to do. That decision does not mean the Pentagon is asking for less money, but rather the OCO account will no longer be a separate funding category that could circumvent future budget caps.
Funding for diplomacy also gets a boost: $63.5 billion, a $6.8 billion or 12 percent increase from the 2021 enacted level. Within this total, the Biden administration requests $58.4 billion for the State Department and USAID, an increase of $5.4 billion or 10 percent from this year.
Specific program details are sparse, particularly on controversial nuclear modernization programs including the new intercontinental ballistic missile and the new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile. But the slim document does indicate support for “ongoing nuclear modernization programs while ensuring that these efforts are sustainable.” The statement also indicates the Biden administration’s review of certain nuclear weapons programs remains ongoing.
Upgrading the Navy also appears to get at least a rhetorical boost, as the budget calls for “optimizing” U.S. Naval shipbuilding.
Lastly, the Biden administration, along with politicians from both parties, clearly has China on the brain saying, “the discretionary request prioritizes the need to counter the threat from China as the Department’s top challenge.” This statement is contrary to the Center’s recent analysis that the Chinese challenge is principally non-military, as the United States is far ahead of China in almost all military metrics, including a 3-1 advantage in defense spending and an 18-1 advantage in number of nuclear weapons.
A cross-ideological letter in March recommended $80 billion in potential Pentagon budget cuts, but we won’t know if the Biden administration accepts any of the recommendations until May or June, when the full budget is released. And while the White House proposes the annual budget, it is ultimately up to Congress to authorize and appropriate the funds with free rein to deviate or ignore the President’s request.
More to come when the full budget is released, and Congress begins its appropriations process in earnest.