WASHINGTON: A key Congressional Democrat said it’s important to “shout it from the rafters” that the Biden administration is taking too much time to divulge details about when the 2022 defense budget will be released, and while he’s been trying, he’s heard almost nothing back.
“I am deeply concerned about the Biden administration dragging their feet on getting us the damn budget,” chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, said during a virtual event hosted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. “The White House itself is not doing the job they should be doing.”
The Democrat, who has been an influential voice on defense budget for years, raised the concern that the longer the wait drags on, the chances improve that 2022 will begin with a continuing resolution.
“I can’t get the White House to take my calls on this one. Just send it to us,” Smith said. “We need it in order to pass a budget and move forward…get us the numbers before May 10.”
Administration officials have hinted that the budget release day would be May 3, but that target has slipped, and with competing priorities like the new COVID relief bill and a debt ceiling debate that will need to be resolved by Aug. 1, Congress is looking at a busy several months.
The White House last week released a $1.6 trillion ‘skinny budget’ that only contained the toplines for each department, including a $715 billion request to fund the Pentagon in 2022, a slim 1.7% increase from the 2021 spending plan.
That number, which when combined with inflation would actually represent a slight decrease in defense spending in 2022, has drawn criticism from Republicans who want big increases in the budget and from some Democrats who are looking to spend less on defense and more on domestic programs.
“We can talk about $741 [billion] or 780, or 600, or whatever,” Smith said. “Whatever that number is we need to get more out of that money being spent.”
He pushed back against calls for an annual 3% to 5% above inflation growth in the budget, pointing out that larger toplines have led to a string of acquisition failures over the years that the Pentagon is still struggling to pay for and fix.
“If that modernization looks like the DDG-1000, Future Combat Systems, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the F-35, the LCS [Littoral Combat Ship], then that’s another disaster. How much money was spent on all of those programs? We’ve got to get smarter.”
Part of getting smarter would entail rewriting the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has pledged to do. Smith called the current strategy “unrealistic,” noting that “we have to be able to win an all-out war with China and preferably dominate…We also have to be able to deal with Russia in Eastern Europe to deter what’s going on.”
“We can never possibly do what we are being told we have to do. We are sort of perpetually chasing our tail.”
He called for a renewed focus on capabilities rather than capacity, particularly when it comes to modernizing the Navy, which has called for building dozens of new manned ships and hundreds of unmanned vessels in the coming decade, but which has yet to fully explain how that expansion will be paid for.
“We have spent defense dollars in a very ineffective way in the last 20 years,” Smith said, “and we need to get our arms around that.”