Paving the way toward a $1 trillion Pentagon budget
Speaking Security Newsletter | Note n°176 | 20 October 2022
When the Senate takes up Biden’s fiscal year 2023 Pentagon budget next month after midterms, it might authorize even more military spending than the $850 billion the House approved in July. Even if the Senate adopts the House’s topline figure, it’ll still represent a $68 billion year-to-year increase: Biden’s budget request proposed a $31 billion increase over FY2022 and the House added $37 billion on top of that.
How close are we to a $1 trillion budget?
The House Armed Services Committee’s decision to insert the $37 billion amendment into the FY2023 bill inspired these comments from Rep. Ro Khanna (the only HASC member to oppose advancing the committee’s bill to the House floor for approval):
“Part of me wonders when we are just going to get the amendment to have a trillion-dollar defense budget because it seems that’s where we are going.”
The prospect of a trillion-dollar military budget is sometimes used as hyperbole by critics of Pentagon spending, but I don’t think that’s how it’s invoked here. I think Khanna (correctly) realizes that there’s not enough resistance to stop it from becoming a reality. There’s simply too much political power propelling Congress toward passing a trillion-dollar Pentagon budget much sooner than later.
The proof is in the pudding. Here’s a look at the before and after of Biden’s major military spending proposals. Far as I can tell, Congress has added funding to every one of them. All told, if the Senate adopts the House-authorized amount for FY2023, Congress will have approved at least $1.67 trillion in military spending during the Biden administration—$72.6 billion more than the president asked for—by the end of the calendar year:
*Only the military aid portions of the supplemental funding bills are included in the analysis above.
Who’s to blame?
Considering its power of the purse, Congress might be the most obvious culprit, but Biden is aiding and abetting its abuse of public funds. While Biden might protest specific military policies put forth by legislators, he’s been nothing but supportive of Congress ballooning the overall spending level.
For example, the Statement of Administration Policy Biden released Wednesday on the Senate’s draft of the FY2023 Pentagon bill takes no issue with its topline figure. Same with his SAP on the House version of the bill. And last year, Biden didn’t object to the $29 billion Congress dumped on top of his military spending request for FY2022 (which was already a $12 billion increase over Trump’s FY2021 budget). Biden matched Congress’ enthusiasm for all the aforementioned supplemental military spending bills, too (even if it meant failing to secure pandemic funding).
Liberal and conservative hawks in Congress appear emboldened by Biden’s attitude. Augmenting proposed Pentagon spending increases (and hedging proposed decreases) is something Congress does regularly, but the congressional plus-ups under Biden have been staggering, both in terms of their frequency and volume. Expect even more dramatic increases from Congress in the future.
Addendum: How does the military-industrial complex wield such immense political power?
My latest article in Jacobin examines just that: