Mattis to scold Congress over budget inaction

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis plans to criticize Congress Monday night for contributing to the Pentagon’s budgetary woes by not funding the department in a timely fashion and not repealing strict caps on national security funding.

In a written statement obtained by POLITICO ahead of his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis describes himself as "shocked" by the state of military readiness since his retirement from the military in 2013 as a four-star Marine general and faults Congress for meeting budget challenges "with lassitude, not leadership."

"For all the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of our military than sequestration," Mattis says in his prepared remarks.

"In the past, by failing to pass a budget on time or eliminate the threat of sequestration, Congress sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role. It has blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative and placed troops at greater risk," Mattis adds. "Despite the tremendous efforts of this committee, Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership."

President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget requests $603 billion in national defense spending, including the Pentagon’s base budget as well as national security programs under the Energy Department.

Republican defense hawks, however, have called the request insufficient to "rebuild" the military, noting the president’s proposal is only 3 percent higher than projected by the Obama administration. Instead, they’ve called for $640 billion.

All those proposals, though, are far above the $549 billion permitted by the Budget Control Act.

In his written statement, Mattis asks Congress to fully fund the fiscal 2018 request without another continuing spending resolution. He also implores lawmakers to repeal defense spending caps "to provide a stable budgetary planning horizon."

"It took us years to get into this situation," Mattis argues. "It will require years of stable budgets and increased funding to get out of it."

Mattis is likely to face tough questions from both sides of the aisle during Monday’s prime-time hearing. Republican hawks are likely to press him on whether the administration’s request will truly help spur a major military buildup. And Democrats are expected to push back against Trump’s proposed cuts to domestic agencies and whether major proposed cuts to diplomatic programs would make the military’s job more difficult.

On the other hand, Mattis expresses appreciation for "the sacrifices made by the American people to fund our military" and commits to delivering value in defense spending.

To that end, he notes the Pentagon is "on track" to meet its fiscal 2018 goal of conducting its first overall audit.

The Defense secretary also notes in his written testimony the ongoing implementation of acquisition reform and underscores the Pentagon’s request for a new round of base realignment and closure to save money on excess infrastructure.

"In order to ensure we do not waste taxpayer dollars I … greatly appreciate Congress’ willingness to discuss BRAC authorization as an efficiency measure," Mattis says. "That authorization is essential to improving our readiness by minimizing wasted resources and accommodating force adjustments."

Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford are slated to testify before both the House and Senate Armed Services committees as well as the House and Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittees this week in support of the administration’s budget request.



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