The Insider

Mattis takes Congress to woodshed over latest shutdown fight

By Tony Bertuca  
February 6, 2018 at 9:46 AM

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lashed out at Congress today for failing to provide fiscal year 2018 funding for the Defense Department in the face of ongoing military engagements in the Middle East and rising threats from Russia and China.

"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," he told the House Armed Services Committee in his prepared remarks.

"They do so despite Congress' abrogation of its constitutional responsibility to provide stable funding," he continued. "Our military has been operating under debilitating continuing resolutions for more than 1,000 days during the past decade. These men and women hold the line for America while lacking this most fundamental congressional support, a predictable budget."

Mattis also said the ongoing fiscal gridlock on Capitol Hill was preventing him from making necessary investments in critical technologies.

"Congress mandated this National Defense Strategy -- the first one in a decade -- then shut down the government the day of its release," he said. "Today, we are again operating under a disruptive continuing resolution. 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. I regret that without sustained, predictable appropriations, my presence here today wastes your time, because no strategy can survive without the funding necessary to resource it."

Meanwhile, the House is scheduled to vote today on a stopgap continuing resolution to provide full FY-18 funding for defense and extend funding for the rest of the government until March 23. The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Democrats have pledged to block any spending bill that does not provide equal lift for defense and non-defense above the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Mattis warned lawmakers that should they "stumble into" a yearlong CR, the Pentagon would be irreversibly harmed.

The military, he said, will not be able to: provide pay for U.S. troops by the end of the fiscal year, recruit the 15,000 Army soldiers and 4,000 Air Force airmen required to fill critical manning shortfalls and maintain ships at sea with the proper balance between operations and time in port for maintenance.

Additionally, a yearlong CR would also ground aircraft due to a lack of maintenance and spare parts, deplete ammunition, training, and manpower required to deter war and delay contracts for "vital" modernization programs.

"I cannot overstate the impact to our troops' morale from all this uncertainty," he said. "We need Congress back in the driver's seat, not in the spectator's seat of the Budget Control Act's indiscriminate and automatic cuts."