WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis laid out the dire details of Congress' failure to pass a budget, telling a House committee Tuesday that without stable, predictable funding the Pentagon won't be able to pay troops, recruit needed soldiers and airmen, adequately maintain ships or keep enough ammunition on hand to deter war.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Mattis said military aircraft will have to be grounded because there won't be enough spare parts and maintenance.
Mattis has routinely complained about Congress' failure to pass a budget for the fiscal year that began last Oct. 1, and the dangers of repeated temporary funding measures that last only weeks and make future planning impossible. His warning Tuesday, however, was increasingly detailed and ominous.
The latest short-term spending plan expires at midnight Thursday. And Mattis said that if Congress keeps passing short-term budgets that freeze spending at last year's levels, the Pentagon won't be able to pay troops by the end of the fiscal year. And he said the recruiting shortfalls would mean that the Army won't be able to bring in 15,000 more soldiers as planned, and the Air Force won't fill 4,000 airmen positions.
"I cannot overstate the impact to our troops' morale from all this uncertainty," Mattis said. "The combination of rapidly changing technology, the negative impact on military readiness resulting from the longest continuous stretch of combat in our nation's history, and insufficient funding have created an overstretched and under-resourced military."
He called on Congress to lift the defense spending caps and approve a $700 billion military budget for the current fiscal year, and then move to pass the proposed $716 billion for fiscal year 2019.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., raised worries that the U.S. won't be able to afford all the things that the Pentagon wants because of the increasing federal debt and budget deficits.
"We hear a lot from the military about what you don't have, about where we're not spending enough money, about the threats that we're not meeting," said Smith, the ranking Democrat on the panel. "If we're going to going to get to where we need to go, we need to hear where can we save money, what part of our national security strategy could we not spend money on."
Mattis said the Pentagon is working to reform business practices to be better stewards of the public's money. But he also warned of growing competition and threats from China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and extremist organizations. And he said the U.S. military can't win tomorrow's wars with yesterday's weapons and equipment.
"I know that in time of a major war, Congress will provide our military with what it needs," he said. "But money at the time of crisis fails to deter war."
Without consistent funding, he said the Pentagon will not have enough time to prepare for war, because it takes years to produce the munitions, training, and troop readiness that are needed to fight and win.