As lawmakers boost federal spending to boost the economy and counter the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, they should resist the temptation to increase defense spending too, a left-leaning think tank argued in a new report released Wednesday.
“The amount of money (planned) for defense for FY 2021 should be more than adequate to protect U.S. national security,” wrote Larry Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
“The federal government should put more funds into rebuilding the nation’s aging infrastructure rather than purchasing new destabilizing nuclear weapons, large aircraft carriers, and flawed fighters. Doing so will not only create more jobs than defense spending could, but it will also reflect a desperately needed shift in priorities.”
Korb’s argument follows several calls from prominent Democrats and liberal advocates to rein in defense spending as Congress considers additional dramatic boosts in emergency funding for an array of federal programs.
Already, lawmakers approved more than $2 trillion in emergency spending to issue economic stimulus checks to millions of Americans and shore up support U.S. businesses. However, critics have said those moves don’t go far enough to stabilize the job market and offset quarantine orders that have effectively shuttered thousands of companies.
The Defense Department received about $10.5 billion in emergency coronavirus funding in early April, mostly to cover unexpected medical expenses and the costs of mobilizing National Guard units for virus support missions.
On Monday, during an event with the Brookings Institution, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that his department will “likely need” extra money from Congress if another coronavirus supplemental fund is worked out.
But Korb argues that the planned $740 billion in defense spending for fiscal 2021 — already under criticism from some conservative groups for not building on past increases in military funding — more than covers existing national security needs, especially when considering the White House’ often promised reduction in combat operations overseas.
“The COVID-19 crisis makes clear that the defense budget is not the only federal budget that provides for national security,” he wrote. “While the DOD received only a comparatively small increase for FY 2021, other agencies that contribute to the United States’ national security — including the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — had their budgets slashed.”
Korb, who has been publicly critical of Trump’s defense moves in recent years, said Pentagon leaders must find efficiencies within their existing budget to better stretch national security dollars, something that Esper has also reiterated in recent weeks.
Last week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., told reporters that he would not support more money for the military in future emergency spending packages unless other more urgent federal agency needs are met first.
“I’m not saying that there aren’t needs within the Department of Defense, I’m saying they have a lot of money and ought to spend that money to meet those needs,” Smith said.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.