Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday, May 16, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday, May 16, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that the U.S. will soon provide Taiwan with “significant” military aid from its own inventories and urged lawmakers to resist calls for spending cuts amid increasing competition from China.

Austin confirmed the pending Taiwan aid and defined the Pentagon’s $842 billion budget request for fiscal 2024 to the Senate Appropriations Committee as congressional leaders held new talks with President Joe Biden over a looming government debt default.

House Republicans are pushing for a return to 2022 federal budget levels in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit but Austin said such reductions would hurt the military’s ability to keep up with China’s growing power.

“Reducing funding to [fiscal year] 2022 levels across the government would hamstring our ability to compete, even if the Defense Department is exempted from cuts,” he said. “We succeed as a team and our Department of Defense succeeds when our interagency partners succeed.”

That assessment was echoed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the panel’s chairwoman.

“Let’s be clear: China isn’t debating whether to pay its debts or wreck its economy. China isn’t debating whether to invest in its future or cut and cap the investments that keep it competitive,” she said.

Austin warned Congress’ unpredictable government funding process, including its yearslong inability to pass annual spending bills on time, will undermine the edge the U.S. still maintains over China. It will delay the ability of the U.S. to obtain munitions such as guided rocket systems and submarine torpedoes for itself as well as its allies, he said.

The coming aid to Taiwan is part of a $1 billion effort to transfer weapons to the island nation in preparation for a possible invasion by China. Austin told appropriators that the Pentagon will “absolutely” need Congress to eventually provide more funds to replace the equipment sent to Taiwan from the military’s own stocks.

“This is part of our long-standing commitment to upholding our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act and other U.S. policies and to doing our part to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said. “We need to remain a reliable partner.”

The Defense Department is planning to invest heavily in the Indo-Pacific region in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Spending on the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a program designed specifically to counter China by strengthening U.S. presence in the area, is expected to spike by 40% to a record $9.1 billion.

Austin stressed the U.S. cannot afford to wait to pour more resources into the region.

“No amount of money can buy back the time that we lose,” he said.

Austin detailed China’s sharp rise in military and economic dominance on Tuesday alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, who said China presents the largest challenge facing the United States. The Asian nation now boasts the largest Army and Navy in the world.

“Beijing has increased its bullying and provocations in the Indo-Pacific,” Austin said. “Of course, war is neither imminent nor inevitable. But we must face up to the [People’s Republic of China’s] growing assertiveness.”

Congressional leaders emerged from the debt ceiling meeting on Tuesday with renewed hope that an agreement could be struck soon. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters a deal was possible by the end of the week while the White House said Biden was optimistic about a path forward.

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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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