Progressives have grown increasingly accustomed to disappointment with the Biden administration—and now a proposed increase in Department of Defense and law enforcement spending are causing them to air their grievances anew with just months left before the 2022 election.
President Biden on Monday released a proposal for $813 billion in funding for the Department of Defense, an increase of roughly $30 billion from last year’s defense budget that progressives already hated. He’s also proposing more than $32 billion in new spending to expand law enforcement and combat crime.
A president’s budget proposal is generally not what ends up being funded, but budget proposals are seen as a way of signaling the priorities of an administration over the next fiscal year.
“Budgets are statements of values,” Biden said in a White House released statement accompanying his 2023 wish list.
Progressives were quick to note those “values” have differed greatly from their initiatives, many of which have been sidelined repeatedly in favor of more centrist policies.
“If budgets are value statements, today’s White House proposal for Pentagon spending shows that we have a lot of work to do,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) wrote in a statement Monday night.
“It’s a mistake,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told The Daily Beast. “I think there is so much investment in overcompensating on an optic that we’re actually participating in doing harm.”
Jayapal told reporters it’s “unconscionable” that lawmakers often determine there’s not enough money for funding education reforms or child care, “and then somehow all those concerns evaporate when it comes to the budget—the defense spending.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wrote in a statement that “we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget.”
The rebuke of progressives’ priorities for defense and policing piles on top of repeated blows to the left over the past year. The Build Back Better social-spending package is without a path forward. Student debt isn’t canceled—and payments are set to restart soon. The Child Tax Credit seems forgotten from Democrats’ agenda. Climate legislation has melted away.
While the budget itself isn’t typically a hot-button issue at the polls, enthusiasm from progressives does matter for Democrats’ prospects—and will matter this November when the party desperately hopes to maintain power.
Other Democrats, however, think proposals to cut defense wouldn’t bode well in today’s political climate.
House Budget Chair John Yarmuth (D-KY), who is retiring this term, said he recognizes the likelihood of progressives being at odds with the president’s proposed increases—but said calling for a cut in defense spending would come across as a “disconnect” between lawmakers and certain “real-world realities.”
The U.S.’ position in national security has changed dramatically in the past month, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted U.S. troop deployments to neighboring NATO countries. Congress just weeks ago also passed a funding package for humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, which caused some progressives to express pause about the degree of military weapons being passed on.
Yarmuth also said the intention to issue raises to servicemembers as part of the spending increase would make it difficult for some progressives to oppose the measure.
“So yeah, it’ll be contentious. It always is contentious,” he told The Daily Beast.
And GOP lawmakers, for their part, are already accusing Biden of not going far enough with his increases. “This budget neglects to sufficiently account for historic inflation,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement. “The Pentagon’s inflation assumptions for 2023 are almost certainly low, nor does the budget make up for current record inflation rates.”
The increases on law-enforcement spending were another blow for progressives who have watched as police reform legislation stalled in Congress.
Not to mention Biden’s remark at the State of the Union last month insisting lawmakers should “fund the police,” rather than “defund,” as progressive activists have suggested.
“We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with resources and training,” he said.
The line was loathed by progressives. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) told reporters in the days after Biden’s speech that the emphasis was all wrong.
“You know, you want to say ‘fund the police,’ cool. But you also talk about police accountability,” he said.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries told The Daily Beast he agreed with Biden’s approach goals to “strengthen the relationship between the police and the community,” but added that accountability is essential when “when police officers cross the line and engage in conduct that is dishonorable.”
The budget proposal wasn’t without olive branches to the progressive left, like a decrease in immigration detention beds being requested.
Still, progressives still seem prepared to hash it out with the administration, particularly on the defense spending increase, even with the optics of party infighting continuing to muddle Democrats prospects in November. Jayapal, Lee and Pocan added they plan to “vigorously advocate against this military spending proposal” as they have in previous years.
“It’s frustrating.” Jayapal told The Daily Beast of the defense spending increases. “Because if you try to have this conversation… There’s no amount that’s enough. I guess that’s it.”