Coronavirus 'debt bomb': Republicans concerned about military funding

Spending on pandemic is expected to cause deficit to reach $3.7 trillion in fiscal 2020

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Republican lawmakers have begun to push a number of proposals aimed at shoring up U.S. defense while the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains and routine operations, and as expansive federal spending raises concerns about the potential for defense spending cuts.

Mackenzie Eaglen, a military expert and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told FOX Business that, historically, defense spending has been one of the first items cut when the federal deficit has swelled – most recently with the Budget Control Act of 2011.

"Congress has never created a debt bomb this large in the last 45 years," Eagen said. "Since defense is just over half of discretionary federal spending, it typically takes a larger cut when deficit reduction ideas are implemented."

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But many Republicans are pushing for increased funding to head off what they view as a variety of security-related problems.

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, for example, recently advocated for giving financial support to America’s military manufacturers – not only to give workers and small businesses a boost but also to help the military supply chain.

“Losing critical suppliers would be disastrous for workers and for our military, which relies on new equipment to keep our nation safe,” Wicker wrote in a blog post. “China in particular is looking for opportunities to exploit U.S. weaknesses. Now is the time to safeguard our military supply base.”

The Department of Defense has committed $3 billion to reimburse contractors for work delays.

Beyond work-related security issues that have arisen, other experts are concerned about regional influences and changes that may occur while the U.S. focuses all of its resources and might toward fighting the deadly virus at home.

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Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is pushing for a $43 billion investment in the Indo-Pacific region in order to stem what he foresees as spreading Chinese dominance in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the money would also be allocated toward mitigating the virus’s impacts on procurement programs and the defense industrial base.

Seeing a similar threat, Fox News senior strategic analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane cautioned that the U.S. needs to keep increasing its military budget year over year – at a faster rate than simply accounting for inflation – in order to maintain its military dominance.

“China represents the fastest-growing military in the world,” Keane told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo. “China is rapidly outpacing us in terms of their military development … there’s a laundry list of things that we have to do to dig ourselves out of this hole.”

However, Democrats don’t appear too keen on seeing military spending included in the next round of stimulus legislation.

California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, for example, tweeted that the Pentagon shouldn’t get any relief money.

Congress is set to reconvene next week, and there are other battles brewing over what should be prioritized in the next aid package. Some lawmakers want to give states more aid, but Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has recently made headlines for saying the U.S. should allow states to file for bankruptcy.

Those squabbles come as the Congressional Budget Office predicts coronavirus-related federal spending could send the budget deficit soaring – to $3.7 trillion in fiscal 2020.

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