SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — A group of pro-defense lawmakers is urging White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other military leaders to pressure Congress to make a 2018 budget deal before year’s end — and avoid another stopgap funding resolution.
The call comes as Congress is scrambling to avert a government shutdown when the latest continuing resolution runs out Dec. 8. Reportedly, conservative Republicans are arguing for a CR into January as lawmakers wrangle over an omnibus appropriations measure.
Adding urgency, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week released a defense bill that, if passed, would bust through Budget Control Act caps and trigger an arbitrary across-the-board budget cut known as sequestration. To avert sequestration, Congress would have to pass a deal that raises budget caps.
Three House Republicans pushed military leaders to speak up on Friday, at a House Readiness Subcommittee that hosted testimony from Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, the deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations; Navy Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy; and the Government Accountability Office’s Cary Russell.
“We really need your help because you guys really bring a credibility that Congress does not,” said House Armed Services Committee member and former Marine Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. “Congress is rocking a 12 percent approval rating right now and I think you guys have a 90 percent approval rating… By the way, that approval rating [for Congress] is lower than cockroaches and colonoscopies.”
Mattis did outline the negative impact of the last CR on dozens of procurement and construction projects vital to keeping the military operational in a Sept. 8 letter to lawmakers.
However, lawmakers at the Friday hearing appeared concerned Mattis might now support a CR, as they warned against mixed messages.
“I promise you if Mattis and Kelly ask for a continuing resolution, you are going to have a continuing resolution,” said HASC member Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., shaking his head. “Until you hold Congress’s feet to the fire, you’re going to have to watch our [military] capabilities further degrade. I will just ask for your help.”
Scott said he was open to Congress forgoing its Christmas recess, set to start Dec. 14, to give more time for lawmakers to hammer out a budget deal, without a CR.
HASC member Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., called for a unified message from Mattis and uniformed leaders, that, “CRs kill our readiness.”
“It’s not okay, not a short one, not a long one,” Kelly said.
In a C-Span appearance Friday, the HASC’s top Democrat, Washington Rep. Adam Smith, said the possibility of a government shutdown was “very high.” Smith also said he would be reluctant to vote for another CR when a larger deal is what’s needed.
“Things aren’t going to be any better in January than they are right now,” Smith said. “We need to sit down together in a bipartisan way and reach an appropriations deal. That was true in January of this year and its still true.”
Smith said that given the president’s recent rhetoric, he was “very, very worried about what is going to happen next week, and I think it will be bad for the country next week and in the future.”
This week, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., canceled a meeting with President Trump and their Republican counterparts after Trump tweeted the two Democrats, “want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes,” adding, “I don’t see a deal!”
Schumer has said Republican s— who control the presidency and both chambers of Congress — would be to blame for a government shutdown.
“The president talks about defending the troops and then threatens shutdown; It’s a contradiction,” Schumer said in a floor speech Friday. “Playing around with the possibility of sequester and shutting down the government is no good for our armed services as well as for the rest of the country.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.