WASHINGTON — America has no “God-given right” to victory on the battlefield, and congressionally imposed budget caps are putting the nations’ dominance at risk, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Monday.

Mattis, speaking at the annual AUSA conference in Washington, said he believes in Congress as an institution but expressed frustration that it has yet to lift budget caps that he and other top Pentagon personnel believe hamstring the military.

“I am among the majority in this country that believes our nation can afford survival, and I want Congress back in the driver seat of budget decisions not the spectator seat of automatic cuts,” he said. “I have great confidence in the U.S. Congress, but I have no confidence in automatic mathematical budget cuts.”

“We must never lose sight of the fact we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield,” Mattis told the audience.

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Towards the end of the speech, Mattis was asked what the military and its supporters could do to help the situation, to which he responded, “Lay out the problem in compelling and persuasive terms.”

He acknowledged that those in the military often get criticized for simply wanting more tanks or boats but emphasized that now is the time to push for funding because the military is not engaged in a great conflict.

“I believe in the U.S. Congress. I believe in them 100 percent. But we have to lay this out in such a way that in a democracy, we bring the American people with us. And that starts with the U.S. Congress,” Mattis said. “We need everyone to make certain that we’re laying out the problem in a manner that leaves no doubt about the need of what we’re asking for in order to ensure that America’s Army is at the top of its game.”

It’s not the first time the secretary has expressed frustration with the budget situation. At the Air Force Association’s conference on Sept. 20, Mattis said “If we don’t remove the defense caps, then we’re questioning whether or not America has the ability to survive.”

The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution, which funds the Pentagon at previous fiscal year levels through early December.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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