The Pentagon would be hamstrung in dealing with new advances in electronic, space, and drone warfare if Congress passes another stop-gap budget measure this fall, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Lawmakers are heading into the fall with no clear path to passing proposed increases in defense spending, and analysts say it is likely they will pass a months-long continuing resolution at the end of September that would hold military spending to current levels.
"It just creates unpredictability. It makes us rigid. We cannot deal with new and revealing threats," Mattis told reporters on Monday. "We know our enemies are not standing still."
The stop-gap budget measures have become a common tool of Congress as it struggles with deep political divisions that have upended the traditional budget process in recent years. But the measures have also riled military leaders who say they cause damaging fiscal instability.
Mattis said the military is trying to "adjust to the changing character of warfare" and would not be able to start new programs under a continuing resolution. Defense contractors would also have to "sit and idle" after starting programs because continuing resolutions leave future funding in question and make planning ahead difficult, Mattis said.
"So, it's about as unwise as can be," he said.
President Trump requested $603 billion for defense, and the House and Senate have proposed varying increases as well for 2018. But the increases will not be possible unless Congress strikes an agreement to raise federal spending limits for 2018, a move that will require uniting various Republican factions with Democrats who want higher non-defense spending.
The House has passed a $696 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets military policy and priorities for 2018, and a $658 billion defense appropriations bill. The Senate is set to take up its version of the NDAA, which includes $700 billion in spending, when lawmakers return from summer recess on Sept. 5, but the chamber's appropriations committee has put forward only a placeholder spending level as a final budget deal remains uncertain.
The cap on 2018 defense spending set by the Budget Control Act in $549 billion.
The legislative calendar is running short and remains packed with difficult political issues such appropriations legislation, a debt ceiling increase, tax reform, and potentially another run at Obamacare repeal. That makes a continuing resolution covering several months likely, according to an analysis this month by Katherine Blakeley, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.