Lawmakers Defying Public Opinion on Defense Spending
The recently passed 2022 National Defense Authorization Act green-lit a 5 percent boost in military expenditures, despite recent polling indicating that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government has been spending too much or about the right amount on the armed forces.
The bill, which was signed into law in December by President Joe Biden, authorized $768 billion for the Pentagon and defense programs administered by other agencies, although Congress has yet to pass a full-year appropriations bill that would provide the actual funding.
However, a poll conducted in November by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute indicated the public isn’t clamoring for plus-ups in military spending.
“A plurality (39 percent) think the U.S. government spends about the right amount on defense, whereas roughly equal percentages think it spends too little (27 percent) or too much (26 percent),” according to the Reagan National Defense Survey.
“When asked what the highest priority for increased funding should be, the military ranks fifth as a priority at 11 percent, behind healthcare (23 percent), border security (17 percent), education (15 percent), and infrastructure (14 percent),” it added.
There are partisan differences when it comes to defense spending, the survey found. About 42 percent of Republicans say Uncle Sam spends about the right amount, 11 percent too much, and 42 percent too little. About 45 percent of Democrats say it spends too much, 37 percent the right amount, and 13 percent not enough.
Notably, the passage of the 2022 NDAA came as Democrats held power in the House, Senate and White House.
The Reagan Institute poll also looked at threat perceptions. Concerns about cyberattacks topped the list at 88 percent.
Additionally, a whopping 85 percent of respondents are concerned about violence as a result of political division in the United States. The poll was conducted about 10 months after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
“When asked if they think the greatest threats we face come from outside of the country or from within the country, 41 percent think they come from within, which is up 5 points since February 2021,” the survey noted. “Another 30 percent believe we face equal threats at home and abroad, which is also up 5 points since February. Only one in four (25 percent) think the greatest threats come from outside the country.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., believes he knows why many Americans aren’t on board with increases in military funding.
“There’s a whole lot of reasons, but two rather important ones are No. 1, the spectacular amount of money that the Pentagon with the able help of Congress, fully admit, has wasted over the course of the last 20 years,” he said in December at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
He added: “No. 2 is there is an increasing number of people in this country on the left and on the right who look at the rest of the world and say, ‘What are we doing? … China’s not our problem, OK. I’m worried about my infrastructure. I’m worried about my education. I’m worried about my health care. You know, we just spent 20 years in Afghanistan and all that money and all those lives, and I got what for that?’”
The Defense Department needs to do a better job spending the money it gets, and policymakers need to do a better job explaining why the United States needs a robust military, according to Smith, who voted for the NDAA.
The Biden administration had requested just a 1.6 percent boost in Pentagon funding in 2022, significantly less than the NDAA authorized.
Going forward, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Biden will submit budgets that he thinks can meet the national security needs of the United States. However, the administration wants more flexibility in how it spends defense dollars.
The Pentagon has been pushing lawmakers for permission to retire older systems and invest more money in modernization and new capabilities.
“We’ve got to be allowed to make some changes,” Kendall said at the Reagan forum. “That’s what we’re going to have to have if we’re going to deal with the threat that we’re confronting now, particularly with China.”