Senate Democrats on Thursday proposed a $792 billion defense spending package that would dramatically boost the White House’s military spending plans for fiscal 2023 but still didn’t total enough to satisfy congressional Republicans.
The appropriations bill, unveiled one month after House Democrats backed a smaller $761 billion defense spending plan for next year, includes money for a 4.6% pay raise for troops, $1.4 billion to expand industrial base capacity, and $2.2 billion to accelerate the development of new military capabilities in space.
The Senate plan also includes $53 billion to address higher inflation “for acquisition programs, goods and services, and higher compensation costs.”
The spending plan is nearly 9% above current year spending levels and about 4% above the White House and House proposals for military funding.
“This bill modernizes our armed forces to address the evolving threats of the 21st Century, ensuring the Defense Department is able to compete with China and other adversaries across the globe,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement.
“It includes additional funds to help address the consequences of inflation, which has impacted government programs at every level – both defense and non-defense …This is a strong bill for our national security.”
Republican lawmakers disagreed.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, said that the proposals “fail to appropriately allocate resources to our national defense.”
Shelby said the bills fall nearly $10 billion short of the spending level agreed to in the Senate National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the Armed Services Committee advanced last month.
The divergent budget targets from different congressional committees set up a showdown this fall over what the actual defense spending total for fiscal 2023 will be.
White House officials have not raised objections over increasing the budget over their proposal, but have emphasized that money should be used to help modernize the force and not simply maintain legacy programs.
The Senate proposal provides $25 million in funding for the sea-launched cruise missile nuclear development program (SLCM-N), which the Biden administration seeks to defund. The House defense spending bill would defund SLCM-N, whereas the House passed defense authorization bill authorized $45 million in funding for the program.
Proponents of SLCM-N such as Admiral Charles Richard – the head of U.S. Strategic Command – argue that it’s necessary to enhance the U.S. nuclear posture, whereas opponents posit that it undermines the mission of the Navy’s attack submarines while adding relatively little to deterrence.
All of the differing budget bills have included money for a 4.6% pay raise, which would be the largest for troops in 20 years.
For junior enlisted troops, the 4.6% hike would mean about $1,300 more next year in take-home pay. For senior enlisted and junior officers, the hike equals about $2,500 more. For an O-4 with 12 years’ service, it’s more than $4,500 in extra pay.
“This legislation will keep America safe by giving our troops a well-earned pay raise, ensuring our servicemen and women are well-trained and well-equipped with the most up-to-date technology and shifting resources toward programs that’ll maintain our fighting edge over adversaries like China and Russia,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.
Senate officials said the measure also includes $4.7 billion to upgrade outdated Defense Department infrastructure, including $680 million to enhance shipyards and $1.8 billion to “modernize our nation’s critical test and evaluation infrastructure for emerging technologies.”
Senate lawmakers are scheduled to break for an August recess next week. Officials from both chambers are expected to start negotiations over a compromise budget plan in coming weeks, but that work is unlikely to be finished by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
As such, lawmakers expect to need a short-term budget extension to prevent a government shutdown in October.
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.