WASHINGTON — Republicans on Congress’ foreign affairs and armed services committees are asking President Joe Biden to propose as much as $2 billion in military aid for Taiwan when he releases his fiscal 2024 budget request, expected next month.
A letter led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and obtained by Defense News asks Biden to increase the State Department’s overall Foreign Military Financing budget in order to accommodate additional grants for Taiwan to purchase U.S. defense equipment.
“We must be willing to accept the tension that comes with supporting Taiwan amidst China’s threats and aggression, and we must match words with actions,” Risch wrote alongside House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, as well as the Republican leaders of the armed services committees for both chambers, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama.
“Using every authority, we must arm and equip Taiwan to make it a stronger and more capable partner — which will only help the United States’ national and economic security,” they wrote.
Congress authorized $2 billion per year in foreign military financing for Taiwan when it passed the FY23 defense policy bill in December. But the subsequent omnibus appropriations bill Congress passed that month funded that security assistance as U.S.-backed loans Taipei would have to pay back over 12 years — instead of grants.
“The loans included in the most recent appropriations bill are potentially helpful, but without FMF grants, loans are not enough to address the scale of this challenge,” Risch and his three allies wrote.
They added that the Biden administration “should increase the FMF budget request” and “allocate a greater share” of international affairs spending for security aid, particularly for Taiwan.
The letter takes aim at the Biden administration for failing to fulfill a months-old request from Congress for a list of critical capabilities Taiwan needs to defend itself. It also calls out delays in arms sales to Taipei. China considers Taiwan a rogue province, and has threatened to take back the island by force.
“Your administration’s actions, including delaying congressional notifications of arms sales to Congress, engaging Congress with a narrow focus on FMF loans to Taiwan and refusing to provide information on Taiwan’s defense needs requested by Congress are not helping our ability to help Taiwan defend its territory,” the Republicans wrote.
Despite pressure last year from Risch and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., congressional appropriators ultimately opted to fund the Taiwan FMF for FY24 as loans instead of grants. No Democrats signed the letter.
The Senate appropriators who lead the State Department-funding panel and FMF spending — Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. — worried that funding the Taiwan security aids as grants could compete with or potentially compromise other budget priorities such as global humanitarian assistance.
They argued that pouring billions of dollars into Taiwan FMF would force the State Department to reprogram aid from other accounts.
The omnibus allocated $59.7 billion in State Department funding for FY23, a $3.6 billion boost above FY22 levels. Further complicating matters, House Republicans have committed to cutting discretionary spending by $130 billion while pledging not to drastically reduce defense spending.
Of the 25-plus countries that receive FMF annually, the three largest recipients are Israel ($3.3 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion) and Jordan ($425 million).
Taiwan’s $850 billion-per-year gross domestic product is significantly higher than all three of those countries, and Taiwanese lawmakers have approved an $18.3 billion defense budget for FY23 — a 13.9% increase over FY22.
The FY23 National Defense Authorization Act stipulates that Taiwan must increase its defense budget every year to remain eligible for the FMF program — be they grants or loans.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.