Congress has treated the Pentagon’s budget difficulties “with lassitude, not leadership,” Defense Secretary James Mattis planned to tell lawmakers in a plea for support of the Defense Department’s $639 billion budget request for next year.
“I need bipartisan support for this budget request,” Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, said in prepared testimony obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of a Monday evening hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
By failing to pass a defense spending bill on time in recent years and letting caps remain in law, “Congress sidelined itself from its active constitutional oversight role,” Mattis was expected to say. “It has blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative, and placed troops at greater risk.”
The two most recent agreements to waive the budget caps allowed increases for both defense and domestic spending, as demanded by Democrats. But President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request calls for domestic spending cuts to offset defense spending that’s about $52 billion over the budget cap.
Mattis urged lawmakers to enact a full year of funding to avoid “yet another harmful continuing resolution.” He’s scheduled to appear at the first of four congressional hearings on the defense budget this week alongside alongside Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pentagon comptroller David Norquist.
Mattis’s testimony paints a world in turmoil -- with both North Korea and Islamic State posing a “clear and present danger.”
“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them has increased in pace and scope,” Mattis said in the prepared testimony.“The regime’s nuclear weapons program is a clear and present danger to all.”
More broadly, U.S. naval, ground and logistics bases “are all under threat of accurate, all-weather, day-night guided munitions bombardment” that complicates “our operations and made passive and active base defense more necessary and urgent.”
Mattis said Congress should allow another round of domestic military base closings in 2021. Proposals to close unneeded bases have been offered and rejected repeatedly by lawmakers who mobilize to save bases that prop up local economies.
“We forecast that a properly focused base closure effort will generate $2 billion or more annually -- enough to buy 300 Apache attack helicopters, 120 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, or four Virginia-class submarines,” Mattis said in the prepared testimony.
But Mattis will face skeptics including Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas, who heads a House Appropriations defense subcommittee where the defense secretary will testify on Thursday.
Granger told a Bloomberg Government forum last month that she’d support another round of base closing only if the Defense Department could demonstrate savings from the four prior rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995. “I’ve never seen it save money,” she said. “Show me the savings” and that the new proposal is better than those in past, she said, “and I’m there.”
Dunford planned to make the case for advance technology to maintain the U.S. edge over adversaries such as China and Russia.
“To ensure our competitive advantage, we must accelerate investments in systems that defeat adversary anti-access capabilities at sea and under the sea, improve our ISR resiliency, guarantee access to space and cyber, and enable us to defeat integrated air defenses,” according to the general’s prepared testimony.
© Copyright 2023 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.