Unless President Obama and Congress change current law, our armed forces will face an indiscriminate, across-the-board cut or “sequestration” of more than $500 billion on Jan. 2, 2013. There is bipartisan agreement that sequestration will cripple military readiness and return the U.S. military to the “hollow” force of the 1970s.
The reduction would be on top of the $487 billion in defense cuts already scheduled as part of the Budget Control Act of August 2011, the compromise to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. The law stipulated that Congress find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction or else a draconian cut of $500 billion from the military budget.
According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sequestration would also eliminate a leg of the nuclear Triad, deliver a heavy blow to U.S. missile defenses, and eliminate next-generation fighter and bomber programs.
The findings of the House Armed Services Committee were just as bleak: the smallest Air Force in its history; the smallest Navy since before World War I; and the smallest ground force since before World War II.
Conservatives in both the House and the Senate have offered bills to avert this blow to the U.S. military, but President Obama – the commander in chief – has threatened to veto any bill that doesn’t raise taxes. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has absurdly called sequester a “balanced approach to reduce the deficit” and maintains that he isn’t going to back off.
The reality is it is far from balanced. Military is less than one-fifth of the federal budget and absorbs fully 50 percent of the sequester. Meanwhile, 70 percent of entitlement spending, the key driver of the debt crisis, is exempt from the impact of the cuts.
As the clock ticks closer to Jan. 2, conservatives shouldn’t allow themselves to get trapped into a “solution” or “grand bargain” that either slashes the military or raises taxes. This is a false choice: one is bad for national security, the other damages the fragile economy.
After 10 years of war and major wear and tear on military equipment, the military is in dire shape and needs to be modernized. While defense expenditures did rise after 9/11, they were largely spent on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – not on modernization (i.e., new weapon systems).
The U.S. military is facing a readiness crisis, one confronting not only its soldiers but also pushing its military equipment to the breaking point. Across all services, readiness problems are worsening. Breakdowns are happening more frequently. The Navy deploys ships that are barely able to sail, and members of the Army have had to tape body armor to their SUVs. The U.S. military needs to be modernized, not subjected to additional cuts.
The administration has said that “revenues” have to be a part of any solution. Yet raising taxes during a time of high unemployment and slow economic growth makes no sense. Higher taxes will adversely impact both job creation and economic growth.
If the entire discretionary budget were eliminated – including education, research and development, law enforcement, infrastructure and military – the U.S. government would still be running a deficit of half trillion dollars a year. Military spending accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget. But it has already totaled more than 50 percent of Obama’s deficit-reduction efforts.
In Washington, it seems it’s always easier for politicians to “slash defense” than it is to address the real drivers of debt in this country: out-of-control spending and exploding entitlements. This is particularly unconscionable when our troops are putting their lives on the line every day.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., noted that President Obama recently took the time to write an op-ed on cyber-security. Yet on sequestration, an impending national security disaster, the president has been “AWOL.”
Obama should show real leadership and broker a responsible solution – unless he wants to add “crippling the U.S. military” to his resume.
Owen Graham is research coordinator for national security and foreign policy in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Charlotte Observer and Tulsa World.