Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday said Congress should not cut defense spending but instead increase it as necessary to meet threats posed by Russia and China.
McConnell made clear that he does not favor freezing the Pentagon’s budget or slowing its growth to less than the rate of inflation as part of any deficit reduction package that House Republicans may attempt to attach to debt-limit legislation.
The GOP leader, who attended the Munich Security Conference earlier this month, said the calculus on national security spending is changing and argued that past defense budgets didn’t anticipate the huge costs of supplying weapons to Ukraine to fight off the Russian invasion.
McConnell said he “absolutely” agrees with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a prominent defense hawk, who says that Congress should not cut defense spending and that if anything, “substantial defense increases” are in order.
“The defense budget ought to reflect the nature of the threat,” he said, citing “not only Russia and Ukraine” but also “the ongoing challenge of meeting China in the future.”
He said lawmakers “did a good job” of “plussing up defense” in last year’s $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package.
“In this environment we need to continue to plus up defense,” he said, pointing to what he called “problems” producing weapons and ammunition to meet the need in Ukraine.
He said “all of the NATO countries need to ramp up their emphasis on defense” and said after meeting with European leaders “the attitude is changed” among NATO allies.
“Certainly the attitude of Germany has changed,” he said, noting that even Japan has now pledged $5 billion to support Ukraine.
McConnell’s firm opposition to defense cuts will make it tougher for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to negotiate a large deficit-reduction package with President Biden as part of an effort to raise the debt limit later this year.
Both McCarthy and McConnell have already pledged that Republicans will not push cuts to Social Security or Medicare in the current Congress.