The Biden administration is currently working on finalizing a $500 million weapons package for Taiwan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC), asked Austin during a hearing on press reports that the Pentagon was assembling such a package after Congress authorized a presidential drawdown authority for fiscal year 2023 to provide up to $1 billion in security assistance to Taiwan.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III conducts a press briefing after the release of the unclassified National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review, and Missile Defense Review at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Oct. 27 2022. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza)

“You are correct. We are working on that initiative and we hope to have an action forthcoming here in the near-term,” Austin said in response. “We will absolutely need to have the appropriations to replace those things which we provide. And so, vice chair, we won’t hesitate to come forward and ask for what we need to make sure that we maintain our stocks.”

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars worth of weapons to Ukraine using the same presidential drawdown authority, which allows for expedited transfer of capabilities and munitions pulled from existing Pentagon inventories.

While Austin did not specify the types of weapons to be included in the forthcoming package for Taiwan, he said the drawdown authority Congress provided is “critical” for supporting its self-defense capabilities. 

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the SAC chair, also focused during the hearing on how efforts related to China may be impacted by a long-term continuing resolution and potential spending caps proposed by House Republicans in their debit limit bill.

“If we want to stay ahead, we have to stay the course and build on [our] investments. Which is why I find the approach House Republicans have called for [with the debt ceiling] dangerous, suggesting massive funding cuts across the government at a pivotal moment. After years of bipartisan consensus for maintaining America’s global leadership, that tactic will throw in the towel to our competitors and give the Chinese government our spot as the global superpower of the 21st century,” Murray said. “So let’s be clear, China is not debating whether to pay its debts or wreck its economy. China is not debating whether to invest in its future or cut and cap the investments that keep it competitive. And China does not operate on CRs. The more we play with default and punt investments and teeter on the edge of government shutdowns, the more we prove China and our competitors are right and helping them show the world that it is their moment to overshadow our leadership.”

Austin reiterated previous comments that a long-term CR would have “severe impacts” on the Pentagon’s procurement and readiness priorities, reiterating the department cannot start new programs while operating under a stopgap funding measure. 

“No amount of money can buy back the time that we lose when we’re forced to operate under continuing resolutions. And reducing funding to FY ‘22 levels across the government would hamstring our ability to compete, even if the Defense Department is exempted from cuts.”

The remarks on a potential default impact and CR outlook due to a delayed appropriations process arrives as negotiations to address the debt ceiling are ongoing, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen previously projecting the U.S. could reach that mark as early as June 1.

Austin told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee last week a debt default scenario could cause a “substantial risk” to the U.S.’ global reputation and present an opportunity for China to exploit the situation (Defense Daily, May 11). 

Murray said during Tuesday’s hearing she’s looking to begin the appropriations process soon, while Collins added that subcommittee markups should begin in June.