In his recent State of the Union address, President Joe Biden praised Ukrainians for their bravery during Russia’s invasion and called on Congress to “rise if you are able and show that, yes, we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people.” But when laying out his priorities for the coming year, there was a notable absence of one thing that would help us do so: any call for sustained, healthy defense spending. Meanwhile, one accomplishment he did tout—preventing government shutdowns—is damaging our military coming so unnecessarily late.
Congress failed to pass a budget until just last week—about halfway through the fiscal year—despite “one party” control of the Hill and White House. When Congress does not do its job and instead relies on continuing resolutions to keep the government from shutting down, it forces the feds to operate under a spending freeze; in this case, at Trump-era levels. This spending lock does unique harm to the military because it buys more goods and services a year than all other agencies combined. Funds are misaligned, priorities get scrapped, and the shipbuilding and aerospace industrial base cannot plan, hire and build efficiently.
Thankfully, even though late, Congress largely ignored the Biden defense budget and added significant funds above the White House’s request. While a win to be sure, now the problem is that the $29 billion increase in defense spending above the president’s proposed levels to better compete with China will surely be consumed by red-hot inflation. This is on top of the challenge of the money coming so late, making it a challenge to spend it well on items like capital assets and investments. Any unspent funds will be lost and sent back to the Treasury when the fiscal year ends in late September.
Because of all the delays in the budget, the armed forces have been self-deterring, or cutting equipment and readiness priorities in the expectation of more budget gridlock in D.C. and a topline next year that does not keep pace with price increases on everything from fuel to health care.