Mattis Addresses White House Reporters About Budget Uncertainty

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis took his defense budgetary concerns to White House reporters today, noting that he’d spent the last day and a half on Capitol Hill briefing members on the 2018 National Defense Strategy, and telling reporters he’s heartened that Congress recognizes the sobering effect of budgetary uncertainty on America’s military.

“Two days from now, I will visit our nation’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade at Fort Benning [in 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,” the secretary said.

Debilitating Continuing Resolutions

The U.S. military has been operating under debilitating continuing resolutions for more than 1,000 days during the last decade, he said, noting that during last week’s State of Union address, President Donald J. Trump said, “Weakness is the surest path to conflict.”

In a world awash in change and with increasing threats, there is no room for complacency, Mattis said. Failure to implement or fund the 2018 National Defense Strategy would leave the nation with a force that could dominate the last war, yet be irrelevant to tomorrow’s security, he said.

“We need Congress to lift the defense spending caps and support a two-year budget agreement for our military. America can afford survival,” the secretary told White House reporters.

A Duty to Remain Faithful

“For too long we have asked our military to carry on stoically with a success-at-any-cost attitude. The fact that our volunteer military has performed so well is a credit to their dedication and professionalism,” Mattis said. “We expect the men and women of our military to be faithful in their service even when going in harm’s way. We have a duty to remain faithful to them.”

The secretary outlined what the effects could be for the military, absent a budget this year:

— America’s military will not be able to provide pay for our troops by the end of the year;

— The military will not be able to recruit the 15,000 Army soldiers and 4,000 Air Force airmen required to fill critical manning shortfalls;

— Ships at sea would be unable to have the proper balance between operations and time for training and maintenance;

— Aircraft would have to be grounded due to a lack of maintenance and spare parts, degrading pilot proficiency;

— Ammunition, training and manpower required to deter war would be depleted; and

— Contracts for vital acquisition programs necessary to modernize the force would be delayed. 

“I cannot overstate the negative impact to our troops’ and families’ morale from all this budget uncertainty,” Mattis said. “Today’s congressional action will ensure our military can defend our way of life, preserve the promise of prosperity, and pass on the freedoms you and I enjoy to the next generation.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)