Mattis Lists Budget Priorities, Warns Against Another Stopgap

Another CR would hurt national security, almost everyone agrees at Tuesday hearing

Defense Secretary James Mattis says the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review were crafted on the “assumption that timely and efficient funding” would be delivered to the Pentagon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Pentagon’s budget request for fiscal 2019 will ask Congress to fund a spate of new high-tech weaponry as well as more traditional military programs, Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers Tuesday.

The proposal, which the Pentagon plans to send to Congress next week, will seek funds for space and cyber operations, nuclear deterrent forces, missile defense, advanced autonomous systems, artificial intelligence capabilities and professional military education.

The items in the request are in line with the Pentagon’s recently released National Defense Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review — two strategic documents that respectively outline how the U.S. should use its military and nuclear weapons.

Mattis’ remarks before the House Armed Services Committee on next year’s budget came as this year’s is still in flux. Hours later, the House voted for the fourth time on a fiscal 2018 defense spending bill, which was attached to a short-term agreement designed to fund other aspects of the federal government for the next six weeks. The continuing resolution was added as an amendment to an unrelated bill.

The defense bill, which appropriates $659.2 billion, blows past budget caps put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011, but includes a provision that exempts it from those spending restrictions.

During the hearing, Mattis said the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review were crafted on the “assumption that timely and efficient funding” would be delivered to the Pentagon, noting that the Defense Department would have to adjust the strategies if Congress continues to fund the Pentagon through continuing resolutions.

While the House passed the defense spending legislation Tuesday night, the measure faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats have repeatedly insisted on budget parity, with increases for the military budget matched by additions to domestic discretionary spending.

Budget battles

The committee’s ranking member, Adam Smith of Washington, said funding other federal agencies through continuing resolutions could hinder U.S. national security in the same way that defense hawks argue funding the Pentagon through short-term measures weakens national defense.

“If we pass this budget that the Republicans want to put before us today, the State Department will continue to be destroyed,” Smith said of the continuing resolution. “We are degrading diplomacy at an incredibly rapid level.”

Smith went on to note the numerous other agencies that contribute to national security that would be funded by a continuing resolution should the House proposal become law. Those include the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security “is part of the nondefense discretionary funding,” Smith said. “We’ll just leave it in the wind in the CR because defense takes a priority and nothing else.”

Both Mattis and House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas agreed about the importance of passing a full budget.

“I agree completely with what Adam said. We need a budget for the State Department and Homeland Security and for everyone else too,” Thornberry said. “They are not mutually exclusive. But we are five months into the fiscal year and it is having a particularly damaging effect on the [Defense] Department.”

In his opening statement, Mattis noted the damaging effects of continuing resolutions, particularly one that stretched the length of the fiscal year.

“Should you stumble into a year-long continuing resolution,” Mattis said, “your military will not be able to provide pay for our troops by the end of the fiscal year, not recruit the 15,000 Army soldiers and 4,000 Air Force airmen required to fill critical manning shortfalls, not maintain our ships at sea with the proper balance between operations and time in port for maintenance, ground aircraft due to a lack of maintenance and spare parts, deplete the ammunition, training, and manpower required to deter war, and delay contracts for vital acquisition programs necessary to modernize the force.”

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