The Pentagon is seen Oct. 21, 2021.

The Pentagon is seen Oct. 21, 2021. (Robert H. Reid/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is asking Congress to fund a 5.2% pay raise for service members, the largest in decades, in a proposed $886 billion budget for national defense released Thursday.

The White House’s $6.8 trillion funding request for fiscal 2024, which begins Oct. 1, includes $842 billion specifically for the Defense Department, representing a $26 billion increase to the amount appropriated by Congress last year. The pay hike applies to troops and the department’s civilian employees, who received a 4.6% salary bump — the highest in 20 years — under last year’s budget.

Biden’s request also calls for $6 billion to continue support for Ukraine’s defense and its neighbors against Russian aggression as well as $9.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, an effort by the Pentagon to shore up U.S. military presence in the Pacific to counter China’s growing influence.

“The president’s budget request provides the resources necessary to address the pacing challenge from the People’s Republic of China, address advanced and persistent threats, accelerate innovation and modernization, and ensure operational resiliency amidst our changing climate,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

Nearly $40 billion of the spending plan would be dedicated to modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and overall defense spending, including nuclear programs under the Energy Department, would rise from $858 billion last fiscal year to $886 billion.

Congressional Republicans on Thursday argued it was not enough.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said a budget that proposed to increase nondefense spending at twice the rate of defense spending was “absurd.”

“The United States is facing the most complex and challenging set of threats to our national security in decades. Unfortunately, the president has once again submitted a budget request that fails to take these threats seriously,” Rogers said in a statement. “The president’s incredibly misplaced priorities send all the wrong messages to our adversaries.”

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Biden’s request “woefully inadequate and disappointing.”

Republicans have traditionally sought 5% increases in defense spending above inflation. The White House’s budget blueprint for the Pentagon marks a 3.2% increase from the spending plan Congress passed last year.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, defended the budget request as “strong” and said it was a useful starting point for beginning negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual policy bill that outlines priorities for the Pentagon.

“Some will inevitably say the topline is too much, while others will claim it is not enough. I say America’s defense budget should be guided by our values, needs, and national security strategy,” Reed said in a statement.

Congress last year authorized an additional $45 billion in defense spending above the White House’s request. The Biden administration’s full budget plan will be published March 13.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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