Rebecca Kheel / The Hill
(October 1, 2020) — The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is predicting a fight among Democrats over the defense budget should the party’s presidential nominee, Joe Biden, win.
Asked about Republican campaign warnings that Democrats would slash the defense budget if they win, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) highlighted Biden’s opposition to major cuts, as well as his own.
But he also acknowledged progressive Democrats are pushing for big cuts.
“There will be a fight, no question,” Smith said Thursday at an event hosted by the Association of Defense Communities. “There will be those Democrats who want to substantially cut the defense budget. I don’t believe it is the majority of my party, and I know it is not the position of the Biden-Harris ticket.”
President Trump has repeatedly touted on the campaign trail major defense budget increases that have happened under his watch. He and his supporters have accused Democrats of wanting to “defund” the military in the same way some on the left have called for “defunding” the police.
“If you listen to our colleagues, we’ll get the locusts and the frogs and the floods, and when Democrats take over, the world as we know it will cease to exist,” Smith joked of Republican criticisms.
But Biden “has stated unequivocally that he does not envision cuts in the defense budget,” Smith added.
Biden told military newspaper Stars and Stripes last month he does not foresee making major defense cuts if he wins. If anything, he added, the defense budget could increase in certain areas, such as cyber capabilities and unmanned aircraft.
Defense budget analysts have predicted relatively flat budgets regardless of who wins the White House given outside pressure such as a ballooning national debt.
But progressives Democrats are pushing for major cuts, arguing that the coronavirus pandemic has shown the United States’ misplaced priorities on defense spending.
During consideration of the annual defense policy bill, progressives pushed an amendment that would have cut 10 percent off the $740 billion defense budget for fiscal 2021. The amendment was defeated by bipartisan majorities in both chambers.
“There are a lot of forces within my party that want to see significant cuts in the defense budget. The number that is usually trotted out is 20 percent,” Smith said at Thursday’s event. “I don’t disagree with some of my more progressive friends that we cannot excessively rely on the military as we engage in the world. But I do disagree that we can cut the budget by that much.”
Smith has in the past argued that the Pentagon could live with less money. But he argued Thursday a 20 percent cut is too large, saying there are “clear national security needs” that don’t support a reduction of that size.
Still, members of both parties need to “make sure that money’s spent wisely, make sure it’s spent effectively and efficiently, and it meets today’s national security needs,” he said, putting emphasis on the word “today.”
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