Biden proposes $715 billion for Pentagon in first budget outline
President Joe Biden plans to request $715 billion for his first Pentagon budget, a decrease from Trump-era spending trends, according to three people familiar with the plans.
The White House plans to release an outline Friday of Biden’s spending priorities, including defense. The plan had been widely expected last week, but its release was delayed in part because of disagreements over defense spending. The three people asked not to be named because the budget isn’t yet public.
The $715 billion Pentagon “topline” is likely to be presented as a compromise to Democrats pressing for cuts in defense spending, as some of the money would be slated for the Pentagon’s environmental initiatives, two of the people said.
A Defense Department spokesman referred all questions on the budget to the White House Office of Management and Budget. A spokesman for OMB didn’t have an immediate comment.
The Pentagon-only budget doesn’t include defense-related spending that goes to other agencies, primarily to the Energy Department, which maintains the nation’s nuclear weapons.
In a change from previous administrations, Biden will also forgo labeling funding for current military operations as “overseas contingency operations,” or OCO, according to one official. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized OCO as a “slush fund” of money that should be spent as part of the regular Pentagon budget.
The Trump administration had planned to propose about $722 billion for the Defense Department in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, although lawmakers of both parties have predicted less would be available amid competing spending demands and rising deficits from coronavirus relief packages.
A $715 billion discretionary topline would amount to a decrease of about 0.4% in real terms, adjusting for inflation from this year’s enacted appropriations of about $704 billion.
That’s in contrast to a push for a 3% to 5% real annual increases in national security funding first endorsed by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in 2017. The increases were also backed by the National Defense Strategy Commission in 2018 and a group of GOP defense hawks led by Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
The fiscal 2022 budget will be the first in a decade in which defense and non-defense spending aren’t constrained by budget caps, meaning that Congress has an opening to shift funds from defense to non-defense spending, or the reverse.
Congressional math is likely to prevent Democrats from taking a scalpel to the Pentagon’s budget. Senate committees are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, so every proposal would have to attract Republican votes.