The U.S. Air Force's top officer said Wednesday that a regular budget is more important to rebuilding the service than specific funding levels, stressing the importance of Congress meeting its deadline to fully fund the military by the end of the month.
"The most important thing that we can get from Congress is a budget," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said during an event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. "We have got to get back in the position of allowing a service chief the ability to plan and produce for the nation the best Air Force I can produce with the resources I'm given."
Goldfein said short-term measures like continuing resolutions and sequestration have wreaked havoc on the military's five branches. He said stop-gap spending bills undermine the ability of service chiefs to plan ahead.
Goldfein lauded President Donald Trump's proposed $54 billion increase to defense spending as a step in the right direction toward restoring military readiness, but he urged lawmakers to prioritize passing a long-term budget rather than fixating on specific dollar amounts.
"For a service chief, the sandbox that I work in is capability, capacity, and readiness, and I've got to make strategic trades within those three bins to be able to build the best Air Force that we can build," he said. "If resources don't come until the last half of the year, which has been the case now for eight years running … and I've only got that money in one-year increments, you can't plan against that."
Goldfein said another continuing resolution would compel the Air Force to shift $2.8 billion to fund current operations for the remainder of the year while halting new programs, including efforts to rebuild its manpower.
Congress has turned to stop-gap spending bills over the past eight years to avert government shutdowns amid partisan rancor. The temporary budgets have frozen defense funding, forcing the Defense Department to shuffle funds from modernization and hiring to support current missions.
Goldfein testified earlier this month before the House Armed Services Committee alongside heads of the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps to warn lawmakers against passing another short-term spending bill.
The four chiefs expressed their concerns that the military would face significant challenges in protecting the U.S. homeland and sustaining ongoing missions if Congress again fails to pass a budget. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Congress's inability to pass a budget by April 28 would "result in dead Americans on a future battlefield."
A budget deal remains in limbo just two weeks before current spending authorization expires, despite repeated warnings by senior-level military officials.