Pentagon & Congress

Military pay and readiness won’t be hurt by flat defense budget plan, White House promises

Defense department spending would see a small increase next fiscal year under a budget plan outlined by the White House on Friday, with administration officials saying any large spending trims could endanger military pay and personnel support programs.

The $715 billion plan represents a 1.6 percent increase in spending from fiscal 2021 but would amount to a decrease of about 0.4 percent when inflation is factored in. Unlike past years, when overseas operations were funded through a different account, the $715 billion total includes all Defense Department spending.

Republicans on Capitol Hill for weeks have decried rumored plans for a flat or reduced defense budget as dangerous for national security, while progressive Democrats have publicly urged lawmakers to significantly cut back on defense spending after years of growth in military equipment purchases and personnel plus-ups.

The U.S. Capitol Building Dome is seen through a beveled window at the Library of Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. President Donald Trump this week appears likely to pass up his last, best chance to secure funding for the “beautiful” wall he’s long promised to construct along the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Biden’s defense budget will meet ‘traffic jam’ in Congress

President Joe Biden will launch the annual budget and appropriations process Friday when he sends Congress his discretionary spending top line requests for fiscal 2022 ― but Pentagon spending, policy and nominations will be jostling for attention in a busy Congress.

In their initial budget submission to Congress released Friday, White House officials said the compromise number will provide “resources to defend America and deter adversaries” while still allowing the federal government to better balance defense spending with other domestic priorities

The budget plan released Friday provides only a broad overview of President Joe Biden’s defense spending plans. The White House did not release service-specific information, or outline its plans for military pay for 2022.

But an administration official said that “a large chunk” of the defense spending increase will go towards a scheduled pay raise for troops next year, as well as more money for “the civilians that support them.”

Under the federal formula used to calculate annual pay raises for service members, troops should expect to see a paycheck boost of about 2.7 percent starting next January. Each 1 percent of pay raises adds about $6 billion in new defense spending over five years.

Officials also said that programs supporting military families would also be prioritized in their budget plan.

“Military families are key to the readiness and well-being of the all-volunteer force, and therefore are critical to national security,” the White House wrote in their budget outline document sent to lawmakers Friday. “The discretionary request supports military families by prioritizing programs that directly support military spouses, caregivers, survivors and dependents.”

For the first time in two decades, the president’s fiscal 2022 budget plan does not include a separate section for overseas contingency funding.

That account has been used to cover the costs of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict regions. But critics have argued for years that Defense Department leaders have used it to obscure military spending totals, moving questionable costs like equipment replacement and troops’ benefits there instead of accounting for them in the base defense budget.

An administration official said the decision to end that contingency fund came after consultation with lawmakers who saw the account as a “gimmick” and after ensuring that all ongoing military missions could be safely included in the base budget request.

In the White House message to Congress, officials said the budget plan “continues to ensure that U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians remain the best trained and equipped force in the world.”

They also promised “executable and responsible investments in the U.S. Navy fleet” and more investment in “breakthrough technologies that would drive innovation and underpin the development of next-generation defense capabilities.” No further details were given.

Unlike budget proposals under President Donald Trump’s administration, where the Department of Defense was one of the few agencies to see annual spending increases, Biden’s first spending plan includes sizable increases for a host of domestic spending priorities.

While total defense spending (including agencies other than the Department of Defense) would rise about 1.7 percent, money for non-defense agencies would grow more than 16 percent.

Members of Congress are expected to spend the next several months debating the budget priorities and making their own adjustments before settling on a compromise plan later this year.

Reporter Joe Gould contributed to this story.

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