For the fourth time this week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford defended the president’s fiscal year 2018 defense budget request on Capitol Hill, this time before the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee.
Mattis again told lawmakers that they need to repeal the Budget Control Act of 2011, also known as sequestration, in order to ensure the U.S. military maintains its competitive advantage against all potential adversaries.
Sequestration Harms Military Readiness
Both leaders reiterated the fact that sequestration has eroded the capabilities most needed to defend the nation and its national interests.
“There’s no room for complacency in the Department of Defense, and we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield,” Mattis told the panel. “Each generation of Americans, from the halls of Congress to the battlefield, earns victory through commitment and sacrifice.”
Mattis does not see ending sequestration as a partisan issue. “We need bipartisan support for this request,” he said. “In the past, by failing to pass a budget on time, or to 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 industries’ initiatives 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.”
The defense secretary said he was shocked at the condition of military readiness when he returned to the department in January. “While nothing can compare to the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration,” he said.
The only reason the military has been able to accomplish its missions and fulfill obligations is because “our troops have stoically shouldered a much greater burden,” Mattis said. “But our troops’ stoic commitment cannot reduce the growing risk.”
Other factors influence the budget and these include 16 years of war, the worsening security environment, contested operations in multiple domains and the rapid pace of technological change. These require stable budgets to address, the secretary said.
“Security and solvency are my watchwords as secretary of defense,” Mattis said. “The fundamental responsibility of our government is to defend the American people, providing for our security, and we cannot defend America and help others if our nation is not both strong and solvent. So we, in the Department of Defense, owe it to the American public and to the Congress to ensure we spend each dollar wisely.”
He asked the committee to fully fund the president’s budget, and to do it in a timely manner to avoid yet another continuing resolution. He also asked the panel to eliminate the threat of future sequestration cuts to provide a stable budgetary planning horizon.
Dunford told the lawmakers that the president’s budget request will allow the military to maintain its position relative to potential foes, but it does not build the force that will be used in the future. The budget proposes a 3 percent increase in defense spending, he said, adding that will just stop the erosion of military capabilities. The chairman said that the U.S. military’s ability to project power — a capability that is the bedrock of national defense — would be compromised within five years without changes.
“We’re rebuilding and maintaining what we describe as full-spectrum readiness,” Dunford said.
Without full-spectrum readiness, the United States will lose its qualitative and quantitative competitive advantages against potential foes, Dunford said. “It’s going to affect our ability to deter a nuclear war, a conventional war and our ability to respond if deterrence fails,” the chairman said. “Alternatively, we can maintain our competitive advantage with sustained, sufficient and predictable funding. To that end, the FY 18 budget request is an essential step and it builds on the FY 17 supplemental request.”
“We assess it will take many years to get out of the situation,” he said. “Specific recommendations for  and beyond will be informed by the secretary’s forthcoming defense strategy, but we know right now that continued growth in the base budget of at least three percent above inflation is necessary just to maintain the relative competitive advantage that we have today. That’s not to build the force that we need tomorrow, but simply to maintain the force that we have today.”