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Major Republican calls for ‘generative’ increases in defense spending to counter US adversaries

WASHINGTON (AP) — The ranking Republican on a Senate committee that oversees the military is calling for a “generational investment” in U.S. defense, saying aggressive and significant spending increases are needed to counter coordinated threats from U.S. adversaries like Russia, Iran and China.

Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press that he will seek an additional $55 billion in defense spending above limits set in the deal to lift the nation’s debt limit a year ago aprons. Wicker explained his position in global terms, saying there has “never been such a level of cooperation and coordination among an axis of aggressors” aimed at challenging US dominance.

The plan marks a major milestone for Senate Republicans as they enter a new round of budget battles with Democrats in the heat of a hard-fought election year. The White House has proposed $850 billion in defense spending, adhering to the debt limit agreement by proposing a 1% increase over the previous year. This plan is unlikely to keep pace with inflation and would seek to reduce military costs by retiring older ships and aircraft.

Wicker acknowledged that it would be “a hill to climb” to convince Congress to pass spending caps at a time of deep political turmoil. Washington is still grappling with divisions over support for Ukraine, the aftershocks of two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a presidential election between two presumptive candidates — Biden and Republican Donald Trump — who harbor starkly different views on America’s role abroad .

But Wicker said the nation has no choice. “It would be very foolish to insist on this on a national survival basis when it comes to national defense,” he said.

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While the Republican Party’s defense hawks have long advocated robust defense spending, Wicker’s plan goes a step further and calls for a broad shift in America’s defense posture that would amount to a realignment of national priorities. Under his proposal, the military would ultimately consume 5% of U.S. gross domestic product (or total economic output).

Defense spending, measured as a share of GDP, is currently around 3% and has fallen since the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The percentage has not exceeded 5% since the early 1990s.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Wicker said, “Nobody took a chance against the United States because we were powerful enough to keep the peace.” We are nowhere near that yet.”

“I think the fact that we are in a new Cold War is self-evident,” he said.

Wicker’s entire plan is laid out in a document he has been working on for the past year. In it, he advocates developing a new generation of weapons, pointing to Russia’s moves to expand its territory in Europe and China’s attempts to show increasing dominance in parts of the Pacific.

Closer ties between China and Russia were underlined earlier this month by a visit between leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. The two-day visit – Putin’s first trip abroad after his inauguration for a fifth term – reflected a growing partnership between the two nations, an alliance based on support for authoritarian regimes and dominance in their respective regions.

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China has provided diplomatic support to Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine and has become one of the main export markets for Russian oil and gas, filling the Kremlin’s war chest for the ongoing offensive.

Wicker said the high-level meeting between Putin and Xi “should be a wake-up call.”

He said in his proposal that the U.S. faces “the most dangerous threat since World War II” and urged a national war base fit for a long, protracted conflict with a major world power. For Wicker, this includes everything from addressing deferred maintenance at U.S. military facilities that lack proper voltage on electrical outlets to preparing for nuclear weapons in space.

Still, the increase in spending is likely to be viewed skeptically by lawmakers wary of the growth of the defense budget, which already dominates annual discretionary funding. The legislation to suspend the nation’s debt limit was passed by Congress with strong bipartisan support and aimed to limit federal budget growth to 1% over the next six years, although the spending limits were only mandated through this budget year.

The House Armed Services Committee earlier this month approved an $884 billion proposal for the annual defense bill with near-unanimous support, keeping spending within spending limits but shifting funding to specific military programs. Still, Senate Democrats are likely to oppose further cuts to other government programs.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will draft the annual military authorization bill next month, but its chairman, Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, has not publicly released the spending amount he will propose. Wicker said he had been in touch with Reed and leading Democratic appropriators about the plan, but their level of support was not clear.

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At the same time, defense hawks like Wicker are navigating the changing politics of defense spending in their own party under Trump’s “America First” brand of foreign policy. Earlier this year, a $95 billion foreign aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan drew fierce opposition from many Republicans in Congress, even though much of the money would go toward buying equipment and ammunition from US-based defense manufacturers.

However, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has been vocal about thwarting those within his party who want to push the US toward a more isolationist stance. And Wicker said there was “an opportunity” to build broad support for redoubling U.S. efforts in the Pacific because Republicans in Congress still favor fighting China.

As he tries to convince Congress to reconsider defense spending, Wicker said he was basing his efforts on the push former Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, made in 2017 when he tried to dramatically increase defense spending. That attempt was largely unsuccessful.

But Wicker expressed confidence that this time it could be different.

With China’s military strength growing dramatically and Russia launching the largest land invasion of Europe since World War II, the difference between 2017 and now is “the reality on the ground,” he said.

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