The top officer of the U.S. Army reprimanded Congress on Wednesday for its repeated failure to pass a budget that fully funds the military, rejecting remarks from a Democratic lawmaker that the military should adapt to stop-gap spending bills as the new reality in Washington.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned that Congress's inability to pass a budget by the end of the month would "ultimately result in dead Americans on a future battlefield" and pose a threat to national security.
"Failure to pass the budget, in my view as an American citizen and the chief of staff of the United States Army, constitutes professional malpractice," Milley testified before the House Armed Services Committee.
The heads of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps joined Milley in warning lawmakers that the services will face significant challenges in protecting the homeland and sustaining ongoing missions if Congress again fails to pass a federal budget.
Congress has turned to stop-gap spending bills over the past eight years to avert government shutdowns amid toxic partisan strife. The temporary budgets freeze defense funding, forcing the Defense Department to shuffle funds from modernization and hiring to support current missions.
Milley rejected a suggestion by Rep. Susan Davis (D., Calif.) that the military adjust to operating under short-term spending bills as a "new normal."
"I don't think we should accept it as the new normal," Milley said. "The world is a dangerous place and is becoming more dangerous by the day. Pass the budget."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said the military's readiness challenges are a direct result of Congress's reliance on stop-gap spending bills coupled with the Obama-era Budget Control Act, which has capped defense spending over the past five years.
Senior-level military officials have warned lawmakers repeatedly of the consequences that a stop-gap budget will have on all five branches of the Armed Services. It is unclear whether lawmakers will heed their advice and agree to a budget deal before the end of the month.
Lawmakers have not taken action on a $30 million supplement to the 2017 defense budget submitted to Congress by President Donald Trump last month.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in February that a budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year would do "more damage" to the service than any foreign enemy. He reiterated his concern Wednesday when he told lawmakers that a continuing resolution would force the Air Force to scrap plans to rebuild depleted troop levels and acquire needed aircraft. Goldfein added that a continuing resolution would send a signal to deployed servicemen and women that Washington had turned a blind eye on them.
"My concern in terms of those who are deployed forward right now and for their families is they're going to ask the question, ‘Are we serious about this or not? Is the risk going forward worth it, or not?'" Goldfein said. "And I'm not sure, if we don't even pass a budget, that we can look them in the eye and tell them that what they're doing forward is on the minds of this Congress."