Mattis to Congress: I'm wasting my time if you don't pass budget

Mattis to Congress: I'm wasting my time if you don't pass budget
© Getty Images

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Five things to watch for at Defense nominee's confirmation hearing MORE on Tuesday scorched Congress for budget dysfunction that has left the Pentagon operating under stopgap spending for a quarter of the fiscal year.

Mattis made the comment while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on the recently released National Defense Strategy and nuclear posture review.

“Congress mandated, rightfully mandated this National Defense Strategy — the first one in a decade — then shut down the government the day of its release. Today, we are again operating under a disruptive continuing resolution,” Mattis said in his opening statement. “I regret that without sustained, predictable appropriations, my presence here today wastes your time because no strategy can survive, as you pointed out, chairman, without the funding necessary to resource it.”

Mattis and other defense officials have long lamented the damaging effects of stopgap spending measures known as continuing resolutions (CRs). But his words Tuesday were particularly pointed.

"To sit here and say, 'We're going to stand up and spend all this money on defense because it would just be wrong to prioritize other things,' is patently absurd and insulting," Smith said. "Defense is incredibly important. It's not the only thing important in keeping the peace."

The current CR, the fourth since the start of the fiscal year, expires at the end of the day Thursday.

Later Tuesday, the House will vote on another CR that’s coupled with a full year of defense spending. 


The bill is expected to pass the House, but its fate in the Senate is uncertain. Democrats have demanded that nondefense spending is raised alongside defense spending, and their votes are needed to meet the upper chamber’s 60-vote threshold to pass bills.

In his opening statement, Mattis did not directly reference the plan to pair full-year defense spending with a CR for the rest of the government. But he appeared pessimistic about its chances at becoming law.

“It is not lost on me that as I testify before you this morning, we are again on the verge of a government shutdown or, at best, another damaging continuing resolution,” he said.

The Pentagon is already planning for another potential shutdown, he added later.

Mattis also warned Congress not to “stumble” into a full-year CR. If that happens, he said, the Pentagon would not be able to pay for troops by the end of the fiscal year, recruit 15,000 soldiers and 4,000 airmen to fill shortfalls or maintain ships at sea with the proper balance between operations and time in port for maintenance.

The military would also ground aircraft due to a lack of maintenance and spare parts, deplete ammunition, training and manpower and delay contracts for acquisition programs necessary to modernize the force, he added.

Mattis also said CRs hamper the Pentagon's ability to provide funding to partners in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, since each increment requires 15 days of congressional notification. Commanders in the field have written him asking for help in getting “timely and predictable” funds, he added.

“I cannot overstate the impact to our troops’ morale from all this uncertainty,” Mattis said.

Mattis also highlighted troops prepared to deploy to Afghanistan, saying they are risking their lives despite Congress’s failure to pass funding.

“Three days from now I will visit our nation’s first security force assistance brigade in Fort Benning, Georgia, as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan,” he said. “To advance the security of our nation, these troops are putting themselves in harm’s way, in effect signing a blank check payable to the American people with their lives. They do so despite Congress’s abrogation of its constitutional responsibility to provide stable funding.” 

Mattis said that amount would be "sufficient" and that without that level of funding, "the strategy would have to be changed."