Mattis and Lawmakers Press Trump for Higher Defense Spending

(Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary James Mattis and the chairmen of the congressional Armed Services committees urged President Donald Trump in a White House meeting to abandon a proposed $33 billion cut from the $733 billion national security budget the Pentagon sought for fiscal 2020.

Mattis, Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas met with the president on Tuesday afternoon, according to Inhofe and a Pentagon official.

Trump is reviewing a $700 billion spending proposal from the White House budget office, down from the $733 billion that had been previously projected. The dispute risks criticism of Trump from defense budget hawks that the president, who has boasted that he’s provided funds to rebuild the military, is turning weak on defense.

“I want to make sure that the president knows if we don’t do this -- if we don’t stay with” the $733 billion request -- “that we are are going to be downgrading the military,” Inhofe said in an interview before the meeting. “I’m not sure he has clearly thought that through.”

Afterward, Inhofe said in a statement that he’s confident “that the president is determined to keep our nation strong and the military adequately funded.”

Earlier Tuesday, the nominee to head the military command in charge of the Middle East said a $700 billion national security budget would create across-the-board risks to the military services.

“We are in the process now, very carefully across the department, examining the details of what the nature of that risk would be, who would it be imposed upon, and the nature of it,” Marine Corps Lieutenant General Frank McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services panel.

The $733 billion figure “was arrived at by the department carefully looking at the requirements of the National Defense Strategy. It reflects our best projection of a strategy-informed budget,” McKenzie said.

The National Defense Strategy Commission, a bipartisan panel created by Congress, said last month that U.S. national security funding must increase 3 to 5 percent a year to roll back a “full-blown national security crisis.”

“But we also recognize that the department exists within a larger government" and that revisions "are just a natural part of the process,” McKenzie told the committee.

The $733 billion for 2020 includes all national security spending and $20 billion in a war spending account, the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget indicated earlier this year when the figure was disclosed in the fiscal 2019 budget plan. The Pentagon accounts for about 95 percent of the funding.

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