Mattis Throws Shade at Lawmakers’ Failure to Fund Military Properly

Defense secretary blasted Congress for 'abdication' of 'constitutional responsibility' to provide stable funding for security

Secretary of Defense James Mattis ripped lawmakers for “abdication” of their “constitutional responsibility” to provide stable military funding by failing to pass a budget proposal with full funding for 2018.

Testifying Tuesday before the House Committee on Armed Services, Mattis said the federal government once again could be “on the verge of a government shutdown” with the Thursday deadline to reach a temporary funding agreement looming over Congress.

The government shut down briefly in January after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on immigration reform. If lawmakers can’t provide “sufficient, stable funding” for the military, Mattis said he was wasting his time talking to the committee.

“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,” Mattis told the committee. “They do so despite Congress’ abdication of its constitutional responsibility to provide sufficient, stable funding.”

Mattis lectured lawmakers for allowing the military to operate “under debilitating continuing resolutions for more than 1,000 days during the past decade” whenever Republicans and Democrats were unable to reach a bipartisan agreement.

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“These men and women hold the line for America while lacking this most fundamental congressional support — a predictable budget,” Mattis said. “Today we are again operating under the disruptive continuing resolution. It is not lost on me that as I testify before you this morning, we are again on the verge of a government shutdown, or at best, another damaging continuing resolution.”

The defense secretary told the committee that if a substantial budget deal cannot be reached, “my presence here today wastes your time because no strategy can survive … without the funding necessary to resource it. Yet we all know that America can afford survival.”

Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) dubbed Mattis’ accusatory testimony as the “clearest, most direct, bluntest statement I have heard from any administration witness” about the importance of stable military funding in a budget deal.

“We have given the Senate every opportunity and we’re doing so again today, to fund the military fully, so they need to do that,” Thornberry said.

But Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking minority member, didn’t take kindly to Mattis’ criticism.

“I always bristle a little bit when I hear, ‘How can we hold defense hostage to domestic local priorities,’ as if those domestic local priorities were some kind of luxury that we just engage in for fun and enjoyment and aren’t really important. All of those things are important,” Smith said, calling Mattis’ admonishment “patently absurd and insulting.”

Related: Durbin Doubts DACA Deal, Second Government Shutdown Will Happen

The government shut down in January after Democrats insisted on including amnesty for illegal immigrants who qualified under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Many Republicans refused to support such amnesty unless Democrats agreed to include funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and other key immigration enforcement priorities, including ending chain migration and a visa lottery program.

On the same day Mattis testified before the House committee, Senate leaders announced they were close to reaching a two-year budget deal ahead of the Thursday government shutdown deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday he was “optimistic that very soon we’ll be able to reach an agreement.”

“There are still some outstanding issues to be resolved, but we are closer to an agreement than we have ever been,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that he was “optimistic that very soon we’ll be able to reach an agreement” following his “good meeting” with Schumer earlier in the day.

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley, Department of Defense. Any parties involved in this imagery do not imply endorsement.)

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PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected].