Defense Secretary Jim Mattis today launched a full-throated attack on looming across-the-board spending cuts during a budget hearing on Capitol Hill, saying "no enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration."
The sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011 imposes across-the-board spending cuts if Congress and the White House cannot agree on more targeted cuts.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee about the president's fiscal year 2018 defense budget request, Mattis also addressed the erosion of American military dominance in a time of increased uncertainty and dangers.
The proposed fiscal 2018 budget calls for a $639.1 billion topline. This breaks down to $574.5 billion for the Defense Department's base budget requirements and $64.6 billion for overseas contingency operations.
'No Room for Complacency'
The American military remains the strongest force on the face of the Earth, but "there is no room for complacency, and we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield," Mattis said. "Each generation of Americans, from the halls of Congress to the battlefields, earn victory through commitment and sacrifice."
Sequestration was designed to be so injurious to the military that it would force Congress to compromise so its imposition would not be necessary. It remains in effect unless Congress changes the law. Mattis noted that in nine of the past 10 years, Congress has enacted 30 separate continuing resolutions to fund DoD, adding that this inhibits readiness, innovation and modernization.
VIDEO | 00:35
Defense Secretary Acknowledges Taxpayer Contribution to Defense Budget
"We need bipartisan support for this budget request," the secretary told the committee. "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. Continuing resolutions coupled with sequestration blocked new programs, prevented service growth, stalled industry initiative and placed troops at greater risk. Despite the tremendous efforts of this committee, Congress as a whole has met the present challenge with lassitude, not leadership."
Previous defense secretaries, he noted, have warned Congress of the erosion of capabilities sequestration would bring. It is only thanks to the troops themselves, he said, that the problems are not greater.
The secretary urged the committee and other members of Congress to "fully fund our request, which requires an increase to the defense budget caps" and to pass a fiscal 2018 defense budget in a timely manner "to avoid yet another harmful continuing resolution" and to "eliminate the threat of future sequestration cuts so we can provide a stable budgetary planning horizon."
Congress must take into account external factors that influence budget deliberations, Mattis said. The first is that the United States military has been at war for 16 years – the longest period in the nation's history. "America's long war has placed a heavy burden on men and women in uniform and their families," he said.
The second concurrent force acting on the department is a worsening global situation, the secretary told the House panel. "We must look reality in the eye; Russia and China are seeking veto power over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions on their periphery," he said. "North Korea's reckless rhetoric and provocative actions could continue despite United Nations censure and sanctions, while Iran remains the largest long-term challenge to Mideast stability. All the while, terrorist groups murder the innocent and threaten peace in many regions and target us."
A third force acting on DoD are adversaries contesting U.S. military capabilities. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States had uncontested superiority in every military domain or realm, the secretary said. "Today, every operating domain … is contested," he said.
Technological change is another force acting on the department. This mandates new investment, innovative approaches and new program starts – something denied under continuing resolutions, Mattis said.
All these forces require a stable budget and increased funding "to provide for the protection of our citizens and for the survival of our freedoms," he said.
The secretary said the fiscal 2018 budget reflects five priorities, the first being to continue to improve warfighter readiness.
VIDEO | 02:50
Mattis Outlines 2018 Budget Priorities
The second priority is to increase the capacity and lethality of military capabilities. The third priority is to reform the way DoD does business, and he promised the lawmakers the department will accomplish a clean audit. He also called on Congress to support DoD's request to conduct another round of base closures and realignments, saying this could save up to $2 billion a year.
The fourth priority is to keep faith with service members and their families. "Talented people are the department's most valuable asset, but we must constantly balance these requirements against other investments critical to readiness, equipment and modernization to ensure the military is the most capable warfighting force in the world," he said. "Investment in military compensation, blended retirement, the Military Health System and family programs are essential to fielding the talent we need to sustain our competitive advantage on the battlefield."
Support for the overseas contingency operations is the fifth priority of the budget, the secretary said. These funds focus on operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as bumping up U.S. capabilities in Europe.