Jim Hartman: The underfunded U.S. Navy

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman
Courtesy Photo

President Joe Biden is now the $6 trillion man with his 2022 budget proposal. That’s $2 trillion more than before the pandemic in 2019.
Biden proposes new federal entitlements for child care, paid family leave, community college and more. These are mandatory programs that don’t require an annual congressional appropriation. The new entitlements will start small and then burgeon into huge budget obligations in the future.
Biden’s budget discretionary priorities also call for dramatic spending increases, including Health and Human Services (23.4%), Commerce (29.4%) and the Environmental Protection Agency (21.6%).
He proposes to finance this with $3 trillion in tax increases, the largest tax increase as a share of the economy since 1968.
The spending binge, with additional borrowing, would increase the public debt to 117% of GDP — greater than the previous record GDP debt in the year after World War II.
Lawrence Summers, former Clinton administration Treasury secretary and outspoken critic of Biden’s spending plan, warns of “overheating” the economy triggering an inflationary surge.
Meanwhile, Defense (1.6% increase) and Homeland Security (0.1%) budgets would actually decline after inflation. China and Russia challenge American interests. Iran arms its proxies in the Middle East. Migrants flood the southern border. Yet, Biden’s budget would cut funds for the military and border security.
The Biden budget particularly targets the U.S. Navy, by decreasing the service’s shipbuilding and aircraft procurement funding.
In 1945, the U.S. Navy emerged from World War II with a fleet of over 6,000 ships, an overwhelming, preponderant force. During the 1980s, a 600-ship Navy was our strategic plan after cutbacks following the Vietnam War. The actual number peaked at 594 ships in 1987.
The Navy fleet today is a bare 296 deployable ships, half the number in the Reagan administration. The fleet doesn’t have enough ships to meet global commitments, even as the U.S. faces growing naval competition from authoritarian powers – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
The threat from China alone is rapidly rising. China makes a claim to nearly all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory, despite claims from other countries to portions of it.
China’s destabilizing actions include an air defense zone in the East China Sea, aggression against the Philippines, coercion of Vietnam, harassment of Japan, border confrontations with India, and increasing pressure on Taiwan, threatening use of force.
China has been highly critical of U.S. warships in the South China Sea, condemning U.S. Navy deployments.
The Chinese navy, already the largest in the world, boasts an estimated 350 ships and submarines. By 2030, China’s navy will be nearly twice the size of the U.S. Navy.
The future size of the “People’s Liberation Navy” will be about 550 modern warships and submarines by 2030, according to congressional testimony given recently by retired U.S. Navy Capt. James Fanell. The growth of the Chinese navy is part of a plan to push the U.S. out of Asia and become the world’s predominant power.
On the other side of the world, the Russian navy with 27 nuclear powered fast-attack submarines, and plans to add six more, operates in strategically critical waters like the Baltic and Black Seas, and the Arctic.
The Biden budget cuts $700 million from the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding account. That would keep the Navy’s overall ship number at 296.
By law, the Navy must have a 355-ship fleet. The Navy purchased eight ships this year and will purchase eight next year. At this rate, the Navy will miss the 355-ship goal by the early 2030s.
The U.S. Navy has a dearth of ships to meet its military mission. The U.S. is going to need more naval assets and a better strategy, or it will need to shrink its commitments around the world.
The problem is more urgent than Americans recognize.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa. E-mail lawdocman1@aol.com.

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