Liz Cheney: Republicans have a ‘red line’ on Biden’s defense budget

Liz Cheney: Republicans have a ‘red line’ on Biden’s defense budget

WASHINGTON ― With some House Democrats calling President Joe Biden’s defense top-line too high, it looked like centrist Democrats would have to forge an alliance with Republicans to get defense bills passed.

But it’s unclear whether that alliance faced dimmer prospects on Thursday. Rep. Liz Cheney, a high-profile Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said the lack of 3-5 percent growth above inflation in the defense budget would be a “red line” for her and other Republicans.

“In my view, that is a red line, and if the administration is not going to be proposing a budget that meets that requirement, then I think they will need to explain the American people why they’re unwilling to fund defense at the levels the nation needs,” Cheney, of Wyoming, told the McAleese Defense Programs Conference.

“It’s going to be important, obviously what is within the top line too … I would clearly oppose budgets that were below that number, and I think we’re gonna have a very healthy debate and discussion about the administration’s proposal, because it is coming in significantly below that number.”

It an open question how much influence Cheney commands with the Republican rank and file since she was ousted from a leadership post this week for vocally opposing former President Donald Trump’s claims the 2020 election was stolen. Still, Cheney has been an influential voice for years on defense issues within the GOP.

Cheney also signaled that Republicans would resist the possible inclusion of measures to address climate change through the defense budget ― just as Democrats and some Republicans, including Cheney, opposed President Donald Trump’s diversion of defense funds to the border wall.

“[Former Defense Secretary] Jim Mattis’s admonition to us all that the lethality of the force is what matters is something we all need to remember,” Cheney said.

“And so as we look at, the potential for billions of dollars being redirected for example for climate change projects, I would have the same views about those, as I did when we were seeing billions of dollars being redirected out of the defense budget to build the wall.”

While the White House has delayed releasing President Joe Biden’s detailed fiscal 2022 request until later in the spring, Biden has released a DoD top-line request of $715 billion, a 1.6 percent increase that’s roughly flat when adjusted for inflation.

HASC’s top Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers, of Alabama, has urged Biden for the 3-5 percent boost, as has the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma.

Cheney’s remarks came a day after the top Republican on the House’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, Rep. Rob Wittman called for the Pentagon’s budget to be increased to $753 billion, which is $38 billion more than Biden’s request and 3 percent above the $731.3 billion Congress approved for fiscal 2021.

Wittman is also pushing for the Navy to grow from 305 ships to more than 400 and against the planned retirement of Navy cruisers, which he says will lead to a loss of 1,200 missile tubes. Without the higher top-line, “You’re going to have to take out resources, and that’s absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

The Republican remarks highlighted the challenges for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., as he works to build consensus around the annual national defense authorization act.

Smith has repeatedly emphasized the details of the budget over the top-line, but ― to his vocal frustration ― the White House has delayed the release of those details. Meanwhile, Smith has taken aim at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program’s costs and problems as a sign defense acquisitions is in sore need of a fix in the next NDAA.

“I don’t know where we’re going to come down on the number,” Smith said of the top-line. “I do think that that focus, and I’ve said this many times in the last few weeks, is the wrong focus.”

That delay has not only hemmed in the budget debate but pushed back the committee’s work. According to Politico, Rogers expects a HASC markup in July ― when SASC has its markup planned ― and Smith said the full House won’t consider the NDAA until the fall.

Smith has warned that the White House’s sluggish release of its budget plans are endangering Congress’ ability to finish budget work before the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2021. That suggests Washington will have to deploy a stopgap continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.

On Thursday, Smith sounded an optimistic note the NDAA would be completed on a bipartisan, bicameral basis for the 61st time in a row.

“Now, I prefer if we got it done in sort of the October-November timeframe, instead of the late December timeframe that we’ve been working on the last couple of years, but if that’s how much time it takes, that’s how much time it takes,” he said. “It’s always a challenge but I’m confident we will, as always ― 60 straight years now ― we’ll meet that challenge and get the bill done.”

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.