Despite bluster from the White House and both sides of the aisle in Congress on the existential need to overmatch China militarily, no side appears willing to follow through on their promises.

The Biden administration plans to ask Congress for somewhere around $850 billion to fund the U.S. military for fiscal year 2025, according to a congressional aide — nearly what Congress enacted for fiscal year 2023. While the Pentagon has warned China is rapidly catching up to U.S. defense capabilities while the U.S. military falls further behind efforts to reorient its posture toward the Pacific, neither Congress nor the White House appear willing to put taxpayer dollars where the threat is, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Budgets are statements of priorities, and this budget shows the Biden administration, despite its rhetoric and strategic documents, is failing to prioritize the [People’s Republic of China] threat,” Alex Gray, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and former National Security Council official, told the DCNF.

In March 2023, Biden’s Defense Department requested $842 billion for national defense for fiscal year 2024. Congress finally raised the budget to $886.3 billion in the National Defense Authorization Act enacted that December.

At around $850 billion, the expected 2025 proposal tops out at nearly $10 billion less than the Pentagon had projected when it submitted budget estimates in 2023, documents show.

“This request shows the Biden administration is fundamentally unserious about addressing the greatest geopolitical threat we have ever faced: the Chinese Communist Party,” Gray told the DCNF.

China is making “extraordinary” strides in all domains of warfare, he added. Under dictator Xi Jinping, China has advanced toward supersizing its deep-water navy, and therefore ability to project power far beyond its shores, closing the gap with the U.S. The Pentagon believes China will possess more than 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by the end of the decade, according to mandated Pentagon report on PRC security developments released in October.

“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the only competitor to the United States with the intent and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order,” Biden’s national security strategy, a document setting the administration’s national security priorities, states.

“The White House and Congress have shown themselves unwilling to significantly raise defense spending or prioritize. As a result, we find ourselves in the worst of both worlds,” Alex Velez-Green, the senior policy adviser at the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center, told the DCNF.

The Pentagon reportedly plans to cut some programs considered critical for deterrence against China. The White House’s proposed budget requests enough funding for just one Virginia-class nuclear powered attack submarine, USNI News reported, citing three sources familiar with the proposal. In previous years, the Navy has consistently ordered 2 boats.

Lack of shipyard capacity was cited as the reason for the cut, USNI News reported. Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro has stated in the past that industry requires a constant demand signal giving it the confidence to invest in capacity, but recently chided companies for seemingly prioritizing stock buybacks over taxpayer dollars.

Virginia-class boats are the lynchpin of the agreement involving the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia intended to shore up Australia’s naval deterrence against an aggressive China. The agreement calls for the U.S. to sell between three and five submarines to Australia, requiring Navy shipyards to produce an average of 2.33 boats each year, according to USNI News.

“Attack submarines are the crown jewels of the U.S. military and critical to deterring China. Slashing production weakens American power. We cannot afford to shortchange our deterrent during this dangerous moment,” Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in a statement as the rumors surfaced.

Other cuts may be coming, too.

The Air Force will lose 18% of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets the service hoped to purchase in 2025, the result of Pentagon efforts to cut costs in the coming fiscal year, Reuters reported, citing two sources familiar with the situation. Instead of adding 83 F-35s to the fleet, the Air Force could get just 70 for $1.6 billion less in spending.

Funding geared toward the military’s Indo-Pacific Command for campaigning, building key infrastructure like ports or advance supply depots and a defense network in Guam to defend against Chinese ballistic missiles, and other programs have also been removed from the budget request, the congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposal not yet made public, told the DCNF.

Most of the rumored programs set to be slashed under the administration’s request are directly a result of budget constraints, the congressional aide told the DCNF.

“We are not going to get ahead of the president’s budget release,” a Pentagon spokesperson told the DCNF.

Wicker, speaking at an event at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank said he hoped to see defense spending reach 5% of America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), roughly in line with inflation. In recent years, it’s fluctuated within 3% and 4%  of GDP.

But even if Biden wanted to increase spending beyond what Congress authorized for 2023, he would not be able to exceed $895 billion in the coming fiscal year thanks to a debt limit agreement Congress passed over the summer.

The deal capped annual defense spending for two years, with the second year, fiscal year 2025, at just under $900 billion.

A majority of Democrats and an influential coterie of House GOP members backed the compromise act that raised the debt limit to avert a default while offering concessions to conservatives. Senate Republicans slammed the the bill over defense spending limits they said were too low, but former Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy opposed any effort to raise the caps.

Inflation, automatic troop pay increases and the cost of scaled-up operations in the Middle East are forcing the Pentagon to make difficult decisions, officials say.

The Pentagon has “must-pay bills for personnel and taking care of people,” Politico reported, citing a U.S. official. “So when you’re capped over the next few years, investments in modernization will naturally take a hit, or at least be pushed right.”

“The single most important thing the United States can do to deter China is to prioritize,” Velez-Green told the DCNF. “Even if we increase defense spending, we must focus a larger share of our nation’s military and defense industrial capacity on deterring China if we are to avoid war or be able to prevail if deterrence fails.”

Xi has pledged to develop a military prepared for a major fight by 2027. While Xi has not promised to invade Taiwan by a specific date, he has made clear his intent to seize the semi-autonomous, democratically-ruled island by force if necessary.

The White House did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

Micaela Burrow on February 25, 2024

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