Senate Passes $3.5 Trillion Budget Resolution without $50 Billion Defense Infrastructure Amendment

U.S. Senate

Senate Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion non-binding budget resolution Wednesday morning along party lines that recommends limiting defense budget growth to 2.2 percent per year over the next five years.

Budget resolutions are not law. Rather, they serve as guides for congressional committees as they draft the budget for the new fiscal year. Passage of a budget resolution is also a necessary component of the budget reconciliation process that Democrats intend to use to implement much of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda. Both the budget resolution and a subsequent budget reconciliation bill require a simple majority vote to pass.

The budget resolution supports $765.7 billion in spending for national security in FY22, which is roughly in line with the administration’s request. That figure applies to budget function 050, which includes the Pentagon, nuclear weapons programs in the Department of Energy, and other defense-related activities. That amount also includes both discretionary and mandatory spending, with defense watchers typically focused on the discretionary side of the budget. The FY22 request, released in May, included $753 billion in discretionary spending and $15.4 billion for mandatory programs, for a total of $768.3 billion.

While the FY22 request didn’t contain a complete Future Years Defense Program, the Senate budget resolution recommends a 2.2 annual increase through FY26. That growth model would result in a national security budget of $835.4 billion in FY26 (again, including mandatory spending). Defense growth would drop to 1 percent per year through FY31, at which point the defense budget would reach $880.2 billion. Defense hawks have regularly called for from 3-5 percent real growth for the Pentagon, a target made harder to reach by higher inflation rates stemming from the pandemic.

These projections are recommendations, and are not set in stone. They evolve over time as priorities change, budgets are passed, and new budget requests are released. A number of moderate Democrats have already expressed concern about the overall cost of the budget resolution, and would also support increasing the Pentagon’s budget in FY22, leaving the door open for negotiations to boost Pentagon spending.

Republicans were unable to add an amendment to the resolution that would have included $50 billion for defense infrastructure, half of which would go to shipyards. The GOP had previously tried to add the amendment to a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that also passed the Senate.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has already recommended adding around $25 billion for defense in its version of the FY22 defense authorization bill, an increase that was not included in the House Appropriations Committee’s markup. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has admitted that his committee’s bill may ultimately exceed Biden’s request as well, even if he doesn’t personally support an increase.

Even if the Pentagon sees a boost to its FY22 budget, it remains to be seen what the FY23 request will bring. Budget documents showed a tentative increase of around 2.2 percent in FY23, but that number is only a placeholder. The FY23 request will be Biden’s first budget to include a full five-year spending plan and will help answer questions about the president’s longer-term plans for the Department of Defense.

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About Shaun McDougall

Shaun McDougall is an analyst at Forecast International covering the U.S. and Canadian defense markets.

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