WASHINGTON — Defense Department spending would surge to $842 billion in fiscal 2024, up 3.2% over FY23, under the budget proposal released by the Biden administration Thursday.

The administration issued only limited details, but spotlighted $9.1 billion in proposed investments for the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative, meant to bolster U.S. force posture in the region amid increasing tensions with China. The spending plan also includes $37.7 billion for the Defense Department to continue modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“This budget cements our commitment to confronting global challenges and keeping America safe,” President Joe Biden wrote in an accompanying message to Congress. “It outlines crucial investments to out-compete China globally and to continue support for Ukraine in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.”

The budget proposal pledges $6 billion to support Ukraine, though it’s unclear whether that money is for military or economic aid. That figure falls far short of the $113 billion Congress allocated for Kyiv via emergency supplemental spending last year.

Pentagon officials are scheduled to discuss the details of the department’s budget on Monday. The White House proposal also vowed to optimize and modernize U.S. naval shipbuilding, but did not detail any specific dollar amounts.

The document stated that the budget “continues the recapitalization of the Nation’s strategic ballistic missile submarine fleet while investing in the submarine industrial base” and makes “meaningful investments in improving the lethality and survivability of the fleet, particularly improving undersea superiority.” That includes “the recapitalization and optimization of the four public Naval Shipyards to meet future submarine and carrier maintenance requirements.”

According to the administration, the budget also “invests in key technologies and sectors of the U.S. industrial base such as microelectronics, submarine construction, munitions production, and biomanufacturing.”

Funds allocated to the Energy Department will support “the strong technical and engineering foundation” for the trilateral AUKUS agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, which the leaders of the three countries are expected to unveil in more detail in San Diego on Monday.

Congressional headwinds

The defense spending proposal is expected to face harsh criticism from Republicans lawmakers, both for being too small to meet global threats and too large to meet deficit reduction goals.

The release of the White House budget draft kicks off the public debate over spending for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, and negotiating a full-year budget plan is expected to take months. Already, House Republican leaders have simultaneously promised to trim federal spending while boosting funding for national security needs, including the military.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for his part, has vowed to cut at least $130 billion in non-discretionary spending, raising questions as to how the Republican-controlled House can accommodate a defense budget increase.

Some defense hawks, like House Defense Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., have started looking at ways to squeeze savings out of the Pentagon. Calvert, for instance, has proposed trimming the Defense Department’s civilian workforce.

However, the Biden administration said its budget will “strengthen” the Pentagon’s “civilian workforce as a critical contributor to the nation’s security.”

The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, of Illinois, on Wednesday, before the White House released the proposal, vented that House Republicans have not offered their own budget plan.

Republicans “want to cut spending, but they want to increase defense spending, and many of us have asked for more money for Ukraine, and we certainly are sensitive to the fact that we have to replenish our own supplies in the process,” Durbin said.

“They keep talking in generalities,” he added. “It’s time to establish what they can pass in the House of Representatives.”

Speaking Wednesday before the budget release, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said any openness to cut defense spending among Republicans is out of step with the majority of the party and suggested McCarthy would buck those views.

“He’s going to make the right decision for the future of our country, and it goes without saying you can’t accommodate two differing positions at one time,” Wicker said. “We are ready to defend our national security interests, and I am getting every signal that this budget will be inadequate and will need to be plussed up.”

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.

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.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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