Debt Ceiling Deal Killed Armed Services Committees’ Ability to Boost Defense Budget, Senator Says

June 8, 2023 6:20 PM
U.S. Capitol on Dec. 29, 2022. USNI News Photo

The era of Senate Armed Services Committee Democratic and Republican members dramatically increasing Pentagon spending requests ended with the budget deal to resolve the debt ceiling crisis, a key member of the panel said Thursday.

Speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Security Studies event, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said the administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 Pentagon budget request would “shrink the Navy, shrink the Army, shrink the Air Force” and expect the armed services committees to boost the spending to meet personnel, weapons and systems requirements, and commitments abroad to Taiwan and Ukraine.

“The budget deal won’t increase it [the original request],” he said. Under the agreement, defense spending is capped at $886 billion, about a 3 percent increase over last’s approved spending levels. The inflation rate for 2022 was 6.6 percent and so far, in 2023, has been about 5 percent.

Sullivan said the Taiwan Relations Act means “we’re not going to let the Taiwan issue be resolved by any other than peaceful means,” which China is aggressively testing.

Also on Thursday, Ely Ratner, the Pentagon’s point man on the Indo-Pacific, criticized recent Chinese intercepts of American and allied operations in international air space and international waters, calling them “dangerous maneuvers” that “tempt an incident that can lead to a crisis.”

Speaking at a Center for New American Security forum, Ratner cited Saturday’s incident, in which a Chinese warship cut across the bow of a U.S. destroyer as it and a Canadian frigate transited the Taiwan Strait.

“The administration’s response is: ‘we’re not going to be intimidated,'” Ratner said, adding that Washington is in intense negotiations with allies and partners to remain united in how to proceed.

At CSIS, Sullivan encouraged allies “to bring their assets to the region” in a show of unity.

Ratner, speaking at the CNAS event, said: “All this is happening in the context of the PLA [Peoples Liberation Army] not engaging with the United States in [military-to-military] discussions.” This happened again at the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue meeting, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu both attended.

Meanwhile, during an Air Force and Space Association interview Wednesday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown said: “If you’re doing to deter, you need to understand who you are deterring and what message you’re sending” when conducting operations like Freedom of Navigation and Freedom of Air Space. Brown has been nominated to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the CSIS event, Sullivan stressed that defending Taiwan “is in Americans’ interest.” Taipei has 66 percent, by revenue, of the global microchip manufacturing market. Access to microchips is critical to the U.S. defense industrial base. Microchips “run the whole world’s economy,” he added.

If Beijing successfully invaded Taiwan, he asked rhetorically, “you think they’re just going to sit there?”

If Washington failed to come to Taiwan’s defense, “our commitment to our allies would be strongly questioned,” Sullivan added.

If China attacked Taiwan, Sullivan said Chinese President Xi Jinping should not expect the United States to respond like it has to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – shipping ammunition, weapons and aid, and training forces – and not commit forces to the self-governing island’s defense.

Under the Taiwan Relations Act, Sullivan said the United States would be “coming to the assistance of Taiwan if attacked by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].”

But “maybe the most important” deterrent to a Chinese invasion would come “from economic, financial, energy sanctions, which I believe we should take up now,” he said.

The United States and its allies and partners account for 65 to 70 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, Sullivan noted. “These are all huge strategic advantages” in making Xi think twice, he said.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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