Mattis: ‘I need to make the military more lethal’
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Defense Secretary James Mattis 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 Mulvaney, 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 Tillerson, whom Mattis referred to as “Saint Rex of Texas.”
Trump will be the keynote speaker during a two-hour lunch with lawmakers later Thursday.