WASHINGTON ― The Biden administration is portraying plans from Republicans to gut the federal budget as jeopardizing national security ― the latest salvo in the partisan war over spending levels.
State Department and Pentagon officials said in letters to Capitol Hill on Monday that cuts floated by Republicans would harm efforts to deter and compete with China and “effectively zero out” aid to Ukraine.
House Republicans have reportedly pledged to cut federal spending for fiscal 2024 back to their fiscal 2022 levels as part of a January deal to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker. However, Republicans have also since come out against cuts to defense, which makes them less likely but leaves nondefense programs vulnerable.
The House Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, sent a letter in January to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the leaders of all other federal agencies seeking more details on the impact of fiscal cuts by House Republicans. On Monday, she posted the replies.
Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord, in his March 17 letter, stuck up for the nondefense side, saying that even if the department was exempt from cuts, those cuts would be “just as harmful.” The federal government’s response to the Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine shows the value of integrating all forms of assistance, he added.
“No one agency could achieve the effects we are producing as a team, and deep cuts to any one of the agencies would undermine the effort as a whole,” McCord’s letter read.
The State Department ― which requested billions of dollars for Indo-Pacific missions and to counter Chinese influence though security, infrastructure and economic support to U.S. allies and partners around the globe ― said those efforts would be hurt.
A rollback to FY22 levels would include a $2 billion cut to the State Department’s security sector assistance budget, according to the seven-page letter from Naz Durakoğlu and Jodi Herman, the respective legislative affairs chiefs for the department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. It’s a category that includes foreign military financing for partner nations to buy American-made weaponry.
“Such assistance is critical to enhancing military-to-military interoperability, training, and cooperation, as well as fighting corruption, and money-laundering,” the March 17 letter read, adding that such a cut would also be like “opening the door for our competitors.”
To the Pentagon, a rollback to FY22 levels would mean a $100 billion — or nearly 12% — budget cut, compared to Biden’s FY24 budget request of $842 billion, McCord said in his three-page letter to DeLauro.
“The Department of Defense is concerned about both the magnitude and potential method of implementing such reductions, which would have harmful and potentially devastating effects on our people, our mission and our national interests,” McCord wrote.
Such cuts, he said, would upend congressionally supported efforts to stabilize the defense-industrial base and also stymie modernization efforts. Beyond that, they would mean less money for the Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative and proposed munitions plus-ups at the center of the FY24 request ― both aimed at deterring China in the region.
The U.S. Navy would hypothetically take a $10 billion cut, likely eliminating a Virginia-class submarine and DDG-51 destroyer, and also endanger cost-saving multiyear procurement contracts, the letter read.
A notional 40% cut to the nuclear triad modernization would hurt B-21 bomber production plans and the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program.
For planned missile defense upgrades, a rollback means 50% less for space-based missile warning and ground-based midcourse missile defense “at a time when our adversaries are modernizing their offensive capabilities,” the letter read.
“Such ill-advised politics would also have global ramifications,” McCord wrote. “At a time when our allies in NATO and the Indo-Pacific region are increasing their security spending to the levels we have been advocating, a move backward on our part would send the wrong message both to allies and adversaries.”
Furthermore, the Coast Guard would have to cease efforts to buy the offshore patrol cutter and the polar security cutter, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s letter.
That in turn would “create an operational gap and further delay of the U.S. presence in the polar regions and reduce the ability detect, deter, prevent, and disrupt terrorist attacks and other criminal acts in the U.S. maritime domain as well as our National Defense Strategy,” the letter read.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.