Mattis slams Congress for 'inhibiting' military readiness

Mattis slams Congress for 'inhibiting' military readiness
© Getty

Defense Secretary James Mattis slammed Congress late Monday for not repealing defense spending caps imposed under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), saying "no enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration." 

Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee that Congress hurts military readiness by using continuing resolutions to fund the Department of Defense (DOD) rather than passing a full budget by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and not repealing sequestration.

“During nine of the past 10 years, Congress has enacted 30 separate continuing resolutions upon the Department of Defense, thus inhibiting our readiness and adaptation to new challenges,” Mattis said is his opening remarks. “In the past, by failing to pass a budget on time or eliminate the threat of sequestration, Congress sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Mattis asserted that the continuing resolutions, coupled with sequestration, “blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative and placed troops at greater risk. Despite the tremendous efforts of this committee, Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership.”

Lawmakers went back and forth with Mattis on the gap between the White House’s 2018 defense budget and President Trump's campaign promises, with Mattis repeatedly defending Trump's $603 billion base budget.

Defense hawks are not pleased that Trump’s base budget is far short of the $640 billion wanted to add troops, aircraft and ships and beat back what they call a readiness crisis.

Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said the new budget “basically has the same number of ships and planes, [and] no change in end strength for the Army and Marines that had already been planned” under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama reminisces about visit to Ireland on St. Patrick's Day: 'It'll always be O'Bama' Klobuchar on Trump's rhetoric and hate crimes: 'At the very least, he is dividing people' As global order collapses, American leadership is critical MORE.

“President Trump said specifically he’d like top have a Navy of 350 ships, he’s talked about 12 aircraft carriers, he talked about Army end strength of 540,000 he’s talked about increasing the number of fighter aircraft and so forth,” Thornberry said.

“So for this budget in [fiscal] '18 that we've gotten so far, it does not really advance any of those goals, does it?" Thornberry asked Mattis.

Mattis responded that the funding gets the military “back on its feet” and that the amount — $52 billion above the $549 billion permitted by the BCA caps — “gets us in the right direction.”

“That's not something that we can simply walk in and ignore,” Mattis added. He later said that the “real growth” for defense begins in 2019.

Ranking member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHouse Armed Services chair denounces new limits on transgender service members Overnight Defense: Senate breaks with Trump on Yemen war | Shanahan hit with ethics complaint over Boeing ties | Pentagon rolls out order to implement transgender ban | Dem chair throws cold water on Space Force budget House Armed Services chairman casts doubt over Trump's proposed Space Force budget MORE (D-Wash.), meanwhile, was critical of the White House’s promises to build up the military without providing the means to do so.

“I don’t think it serves any particular purpose to make promises that nobody has any intention of keeping,” Smith said.

And Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) asked Mattis about his discussions with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), run by Mick Mulvaney. Turner asserted the OMB was “where one of our problems are” with military funding.

“What do they say? Do they know that you have planes that can not fly, that you have pilots that don’t get flying time, that you have soldiers that are not ready, and that you have shortfalls in ammunition, training and spare parts?” asked Turner, the House tactical air and land forces subcommittee chairman.

“Because the budget that they gave us doesn’t fix that. What is OMB saying because we’d like to fix it now. We don’t want to wait.”

Mattis said the fiscal 2018 budget was meant to “stabilize" and fill in readiness problems.

“The real growth comes in [fiscal 2019 to 2023], with a program that OMB is keenly aware we need, and President Trump has highlighted to OMB. We have his support on this,” Mattis said.

Monday night’s hearing was Mattis’s first in a series of four House and Senate panels this week on the fiscal 2018 defense budget. He appeared along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.