Two days before yet another potential government shutdown, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared before Congress to issue a now-familiar warning: Lawmakers’ inability to pass a budget has and will continue to hurt the troops.
“Should you stumble into a year-long continuing resolution, your military will not be able to provide pay for our troops by the end of the fiscal year,” Mattis warned, citing the short-term funding mechanism Congress has relied upon four times since the new fiscal year began Oct. 1 because the House and Senate cannot agree on several domestic spending issues.
A continuing resolution only funds the services at the previous year’s levels. If it is used to pay for the remaining months of fiscal 2018, it will come up short in paying for new service members, spare parts and programs the military has planned on.
Pass only a continuing resolution, Mattis warned, and the military will “not recruit the 15,000 Army soldiers and 4,000 Air Force airmen required to fill critical manning shortfalls; not maintain our ships at sea, with the proper balance between operations and time in port for maintenance; ground aircraft due to a lack of maintenance and spare parts; deplete the ammunition, training, and manpower required to deter war; and delay contracts for vital acquisition programs necessary to modernize the force.”
Congress is set to vote later Tuesday on a bill that would extend the continuing resolution-level funding for all other federal agencies, leaving them at last year’s levels, while funding the military at the full fiscal 2018 level. It was not clear whether Democrats would support the measure, due to the cuts it would force upon other government programs.
Either way, some of the damage has already been done, Mattis said. The military has dealt with continuing resolutions for nine of the past 10 years, and if the practice continues, some of the effects will be irreversible, Mattis said.
“There are a number of areas where, when time is lost,” it cannot be recovered, Mattis said. “If you have pilots who are not taking in their flying time now, five years from now, when they are majors or lieutenant colonels, they will not have the level of expertise you would expect because they did not get the opportunity they lost during continuing resolutions or during budget shutdowns.”
“It impacts us,” Mattis said. “It’s not like we even maintain the status quo if we go into one of these situations yet again. We actually lose ground.”
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."