The Bipartisan Quarrel Over Defense Spending: Does It Matter?

In a 23-3 vote on Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee signed off on a Republican-led amendment that grants an additional $25 billion to next year’s defense budget. The new proposal boosts spending levels to a total of $778 billion and proffers more in funding than what the Trump administration allocated in 2021.

The funds will go directly to the Pentagon and its myriad projects. With the increase, more resources will go to pushing back on Beijing; funds will subsidize projects that counter China’s rising regional influence in the Indo-Pacific, where the DoD plans to accelerate its militarization of the South China Sea and Taiwan. The Kremlin will also receive its fair share of attention – Senators plan to keep pumping money into NATO, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and the Pentagon’s global network of 800 military bases. Other funds will subsidize new missiles for the Marine Corps, 12 new airplanes and weapons systems for the Air Force, modern tactical and quality of life equipment for the Army and adjusted flight hours for the Navy.

Republican Senators first introduced the amendment during a closed-door committee work session on Wednesday. Biden’s proposal, according to Republican lawmakers, fails to keep up with current inflation rates and hampers America’s efforts to address potential threats posed by China and foreign terrorist cells.

While the Senate’s budget still awaits a full vote in front of the entire chamber, GOP lawmakers are confident that the measure will garner widespread bipartisan support. "I’m proud the bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee could come together to put service members first and support my amendment to sufficiently increase defense spending in the National Defense Authorization Act," said Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe. "I feel very confident about getting support from Democrats too." If the spending increase is approved, a separate appropriations bill must be approved as well.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden requested approximately $753 billion for national security, allocating around $715 billion for the Pentagon; an increase of 1.6 percent from the year prior. When adjusted for inflation rates, however, the amount is slightly disparate from former years, during which the Trump administration boosted Pentagon funding.

The ‘slight increase’ in spending takes aim at the "substantial challenges, emanating from countries like China and Russia, and from threats to global security, such as from climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic." The "pacing challenge" from China in the Indo-Pacific, according to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, requires "additional investments to address strategic competition," reflecting a "shift in resources to match priorities." Biden’s proposed budget corresponds with the withdrawal of US troops occupying Afghanistan – however, the administration will continue carrying out other counterterrorism missions in the region.

"A chunk of this budget request, on the defense side in particular, is to pay for the pay raise for men and women in uniform, and then the civilians that support them; I think that’s something we could find support for on both sides of the aisle," an administration official told reporters. "The focus will be on investments on non-defense, but also ensuring the Defense Department… can continue its strategic goals as we outcompete China, and as we ensure that the men and women in uniform have everything that they need."

The House Appropriations Committee advanced a $706 billion defense proposal earlier this month. The proposal passed on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposing the measure – hawkish trepidations have mostly fallen on deaf ears. The proposal cuts against Biden’s budget, leaving less money for research and development, weapons procurement and testing capabilities. Leading progressive and antiwar lawmakers maintain that an increased spending allotment is no longer necessary. Their supplications, nonetheless, procure little support among officials in America’s popularly elected branches.

Establishment Republicans and Democrats alike can be expected to approve spending increases. With the forthcoming mid-term elections ahead, the duopoly is seizing on the opportunity to harden its rhetoric on China, while pushing forward to empower the state-funded military-industrial-complex and enterprise network.

"The defense appropriations bill is a jobs bill," Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota said. "Across the country, millions of jobs are funded by this bill. These are jobs in all of our congressional districts – union jobs in industry, manufacturing, small businesses, as well as jobs in scientific research and academia."

"Now is the time to prioritize our national security funding, not shortchange it," said Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.

The fate of future budgetary increases is in Biden’s hands. But, thus far, he has proved to be from the same cast and crew of characters who occupied the seat before him. It does not matter whether or not the Pentagon receives an additional $25 billion. In terms of how he exercises US power and influence around the world, Biden’s record on the international playing field suggests that he has concocted a unique combination of Obama-style internationalism with a Pompeo-like realist pugnacity.

On the one hand, Biden desires a renewed and reinvigorated cross-Atlantic partnership with Europe; that is the only method by which the West can counter Russian and Chinese aggression. The Biden administration has renewed trade and aid agreements with the United Kingdom, as well as a military cooperation declaration. UK and US forces, respectively, have sailed naval ships into the Black Sea, warranting challenge from Russia. And most importantly, casting aside the domestically popular concerns pertaining to Russian election interference and Kremlin-sponsored cybersecurity attacks, Biden ended sanctions on the German-Russian natural gas pipeline, despite dissent from Ukraine and a bipartisan chorus of American lawmakers.

In concert with the new American president, western allies also reinstated a virtuosity for the rules-based-order; European nations, the United States and the European Union have unleashed multiple rounds of sanctions against Russian and Chinese officials. Military tensions continue to flare over the Taiwan-question. And western nations are still grasping at straws to preserve Hong Kong’s democracy.

By their lonesome, a particular state in the West would falter under the weight and ire of both the Kremlin and the People’s Hall. Biden and his European friends know, without a strong cross-Atlantic partnership, the West cannot successfully sustain a policy of hegemony – for there is safety in numbers.

Like his predecessor, Biden also shares a willingness to continue conducting America’s imperial war against terror without regard for its cost to life, limb or wallet. Ordinary Americans ought not be forced to subsidize such a ludicrous endeavor on the part of Washington. But Biden, the generals, Congress and the MIC need more for war.

He announced the final withdrawal of America’s military occupation of Afghanistan, ending Washington’s twenty year long mission in the nation. His plan, however, will station approximately 600 troops in Kabul, including officers and specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency. Future US-led counterterrorism efforts are still not out of the picture, nonetheless. The airstrikes haven’t stopped in Syria or Iraq – and in Somalia, the airstrikes are back. Biden doubtless forgets the misgivings of the past. His administration cannot double down on force and expect the world to acquiesce.

And, in the end, like Congresswoman McCollum said, a strong defense industry is good for the health of the economy – more money for taxpayer-funded jobs, research, bombs and aid. Future generations will lament the United States government for its decision to continue such a policy. 

Year after year, Washington, regardless of what regime is in control, ignores the laws of modern day international statecraft. A state cannot, and ought not, be a global empire. It cannot continue robbing the taxpayer to subsidize endless, imperial wars. Biden’s international policy is ignorant of the folly of American exceptionalism, and the dangers inherent to it. With or without the increase, as it seems, the Washington regime is already following lockstep with America’s imperial foreign policy.

Brett Kershaw is a young independent writer, historian, and creator of the – a site created to help foster ideological dialogue, preserve heterodox views and provide an alternative to the corporate press.