WASHINGTON — It's Jim Mattis week on Capitol Hill.
In an odd scheduling quirk, the secretary of defense will appear before before congressional committees four consecutive days this week. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford is set to accompany him for each event, including an unusual 7 p.m. hearing Monday before the House Armed Services Committee, which has prompted jokes of "prime time Mattis" among Hill staffers.
The focus of each of the hearings is President Trump's controversial $603 billion defense budget proposal, which would boost military funding but also bust spending caps put in place by Congress seven years ago.
But the flurry of activity has less to do with the specifics of the budget and more to do with the calendar.
Typically, lawmakers invite the defense secretary to testify on the annual budget proposal in April. This year, because of the administration turnover, the White House budget proposal didn't arrive until late May, shifting the entire legislative timeline back.
Now, lawmakers are rushing to make progress on the fiscal 2018 budget debate before the planned congressional recess in August, and the end of the fiscal year in late September.
Mattis isn’t the only Cabinet official with a busy Hill schedule this week. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to appear before four hearings over two days. The Senate Appropriations Committee alone will host six Cabinet-level officials for budget hearings, and that doesn’t include Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s appearance down the hall on Wednesday.
The rush again raises questions about whether Congress will be able to meet a full-year budget deal close to the end of the fiscal year.
Military leaders have long lamented the lack of stability in continuing resolutions and partial-year budgets. For fiscal 2017, lawmakers didn’t finalize the full spending plan until April, seven months into the year.
Trump’s budget plan presents a host of legislative challenges, including his plan to impose a new set of spending caps that would increase military funding and decrease non-defense money. Democrats have opposed the idea in the past and greeted Trump’s attempts with derision.
Meanwhile, Republicans from the House and Senate Armed Armed Services committees have said Trump’s proposed spending plan to boost defense programs doesn’t go far enough, asking for at least $37 billion more than what Trump has proposed.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.