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Mattis: 'I need to make the military more lethal'

Mattis: 'I need to make the military more lethal'
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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisLawmakers press Trump to keep Mattis US mulls sending warships through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions Overnight Defense: US, South Korea cancel another military exercise | Dozen sailors injured in chopper crash on aircraft carrier | Navy vet charged with sending toxic letters MORE on Thursday told House and Senate GOP lawmakers gathered at a party retreat here that the Trump administration will request $716 billion for defense spending for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

That figure is nearly $50 billion, or 7 percent, higher than Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request for the Pentagon.

“I’m not subtle,” Mattis told GOP lawmakers at their annual retreat at the famed Greenbriar resort, which allows tours of its Cold War-era nuclear fallout shelters.

“I need to make the military more lethal. Some people think I’m supposed to be an equal-opportunity employer,” Mattis added, according to several sources in the closed-door meeting. That appeared to be a veiled shot at Democrats who have called for fiscal parity, with domestic spending receiving the same increase as defense spending.

The Trump administration requested roughly $668 billion for defense in fiscal 2018. Defense hawks derided that figure at the time as little more than what former President Obama had planned and instead pushed for a $700 billion defense budget.

Some on Capitol Hill blamed White House budget director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Consumer bureau to probe top Trump official's past racial comments On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race MORE, a staunch deficit hawk, for the less-than-expected request last year. The significant bump this year appears to signal Mattis has won out.

Mattis has said he needs a 3 percent to 5 percent increase over inflation each year to rebuild readiness that has eroded after years of budget dysfunction. He also wants the growth to align with the new National Defense Strategy in which the military is set to pivot from years of focusing on terrorism to returning to a so-called great power competition with rivals such as Russia and China.

Mattis also complained about Congress funding the government through a series of short-term stopgap measures known as continuing resolutions, or CRs.

“I cannot maintain the U.S. military on CRs,” Mattis said, according to the sources.

Mattis appeared at the GOP retreat with Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Trump administration rigging the game, and your retirement fund could be the loser Haley’s exit sends shockwaves through Washington MORE, whom Mattis referred to as “Saint Rex of Texas.”

Trump will be the keynote speaker during a two-hour lunch with lawmakers later Thursday.