President’s Budget is Blind to the New Cold War

April 22, 2024

President Biden likes to share an expression from his father: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Let’s follow that logic. Last month, Biden released a budget proposal that calls into serious question how much he values our national security.

The United States has entered a New Cold War. Our military budget should reflect that grim new reality. It seems, however, that Biden’s proposal was written for a bygone era, ignoring today’s very real challenges.

I serve as the senior Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, and I am proposing an alternate path that would equip our armed forces for a rapidly changing world.

Americans — including Biden — need to start thinking differently about our sense of safety. We have grown accustomed to a world in which no country could match our power. But our adversaries have been quietly catching up, drastically increasing their military capabilities while our investments remained stagnant.

Two of our adversaries, Russia and Iran, have already begun wars. We must ensure that China and North Korea do not follow suit.

China has replaced the Soviet Union as our primary threat and represents a more complex and serious challenge. Even worse, it is at the center of a strengthening partnership with Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is making it clear that he intends to topple American leadership. Under his iron first, Beijing has accomplished the largest military buildup of any country since World War II. China recently announced it is raising defense spending this year by over 7 percent. Meanwhile, U.S. defense spending is slated to increase by 1 percent — a cut after inflation.

A weak America invites attack, but a strong America deters one.

Some examples illustrate how the president’s defense request falls short.

His budget underfunds the top priority of our National Defense Strategy, the threat from communist China. Recently, the U.S. commander responsible for our forces in the Pacific told the Armed Services Committee that, under this plan, his command will be shortchanged a whopping $11 billion.

The president’s budget also slashes $900 million from our missile defense programs, which protect deployed American and allied forces and our homeland. All the while, our adversaries build thousands of new missiles.

Both the Navy and Air Force would continue to shrink under Biden’s budget. It delays an aircraft carrier, cuts an attack submarine, and retires even more ships than last year. It also slows down tactical fighter-jet production, even as the Chinese are massively expanding their fleet. Both our naval and air forces are in a death spiral.

Because of their aggressive deployment tempo, too few aircraft and ships are properly maintained. And even if our forces can remain qualitatively superior, they are vastly outnumbered.

During World War II, the Allies called our vast weapons and munitions industry the “arsenal of democracy.” But today, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has forced defense leaders to acknowledge that the U.S. industrial base has languished. We have a national plan to reinvigorate these industries, but the president’s budget actually slashes some manufacturing programs, rather than properly contributing to them.

For the fourth year in a row, Biden’s proposal has amounted to a cut in military investment. He may try to blame 2023’s Fiscal Responsibility Act for this choice, but that ignores the fact that his non-defense spending proposal exceeded that law’s cap anyway by $76 billion.

As usual, President Reagan’s voice from past decades offers timely advice. In a 1981 speech to graduating West Point cadets, he referenced the four major wars in his lifetime. He said, “none of them came about because the United States was too strong.”

During his administration, he matched those words with deeds. President Reagan committed to defense investment that won the Cold War without firing a shot.

It is unfortunately clear that today’s commander in chief does not place the same premium on America’s defense. The president has shown us his budget. And like his dad would say, that shows us his values. Fortunately, Congress has the power of the purse and can demonstrate to the world that America still pursues peace through strength.

Roger Wicker is a U.S. senator for Mississippi and serves as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill and can also be found here.