Lloyd Austin: $842 billion budget reflects China as U.S. ‘pacing challenge’

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is on Capitol Hill to press Congress to approve the Biden administration’s fiscal 2024 request for the Pentagon, which he calls a “strategy-driven budget” focusing on the country’s strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China.

At $842 billion, the Pentagon’s budget request marks a 3.2% increase over fiscal 2023 and 13.4% increase over fiscal 2022.

In prepared testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday morning, Mr. Austin repeated the administration’s assertion that Beijing represents the nation’s “pacing challenge” and insisted the new budget builds on investments to deter aggression “by increasing our edge.”

“We’re investing in a more resilient force posture in the Indo-Pacific and increasing the scale and scope of our exercises with our partners,” he said.

The budget request includes a 40% increase to the administration’s Pacific Defense Initiative meant to counter China’s military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region. Mr. Austin said the $9.1 billion will help fund better defenses for Hawaii and Guam, which has emerged as a linchpin for American military operations in the area.

The proposed budget includes more than $61 billion for the Air Force, including new funding for jet fighters and the B-21 strategic bomber that was unveiled last December, and $48 billion for the Navy, which includes the construction of nine warships.

“We’re boosting the capacity of America’s shipyards to build the ships that our strategy demands,” Mr. Austin said. “We’re buying two Virginia-class attack submarines and one Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.”

The Defense Department is pushing for $11 billion for a mix of long-range artillery fires, which include what Mr. Austin called “major investments” in hypersonic weapons.

In his opening statements, Mr. Austin made only a passing remark about concerns over climate change, perhaps reflecting the new power dynamic in Congress, with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives.

The Pentagon budget also will make life easier for military personnel, such as by helping to expand job opportunities for spouses and making childcare more affordable. President Biden proposed a 5.2% pay raise for service members and Defense Department civilians.

While Mr. Austin called it the largest military pay increase in decades, it doesn’t match the current 6% annual inflation rate in the U.S. 

The proposed budget also will help eliminate suicide in the ranks by including funding for additional mental health professions and improving access to mental health care, Mr. Austin said.

“The department is also investing in a specialized workforce to combat sexual assault, harassment, suicide, and more,” he told the lawmakers. “On many installations, we’re conducting on-site evaluations that tell us what’s working and where more support is urgently needed.”

He said Congress can show its support for the troops by passing an on-time, full-year appropriation “so we can defend our democracy and support the forces of freedom in this hour of challenge.”

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