The current political environment and fiscal challenges in Washington, D.C., have made it difficult to pass even routine legislation. Although partisan gridlock is nothing new, an aversion to compromise is defining this Congress, which has been tasked with reducing the largest federal deficit since World War II.
Even on issues that both parties support, or oppose in the case of sequestration, reaching agreement does not come without roadblocks.
But if Congress cannot find a way, at a minimum, to find $1.2 trillion in the federal budget to reduce the deficit, then automatic across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense discretionary spending will go into effect in January 2013. It will also create annual funding caps every subsequent year, from 2014 to 2021.
There is almost unanimous opposition to sequestration, and many agree it would have dangerous repercussions for our national security and our country’s economic recovery.
To avoid it, however, both parties must work together to find a balanced approach that includes responsible spending reductions and balance the equation by reviewing revenue options.
The Sequester Replacement Act, the Republican attempt to remove sequestration from the Budget Control Act, skirts the revenue issue altogether and shifts cuts to Medicaid, important health care reforms and numerous critical social services, such as Meals on Wheels.
Congress passed the BCA to try to regain control of the deficit; however, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) reconciliation plan focuses solely on the automatic cuts and does not address the following nine years of restrictive spending limits or the long-term consequences of making deep cuts to programs that help our country’s most vulnerable citizens.
Further, President Barack Obama has said he would veto any legislation to avoid a full sequester if it doesn’t provide a package of revenues and reductions.
Significant cuts cannot be made without putting taxes on the table, and neither of these compromises should come at the cost of the health, social safety net or security of the American people. All compromises and long-term, sustainable solutions must have a balanced equation, and the current attempt to stop sequestration stops far from achieving that balance.
Almost $60 billion of these automatic cuts will be absorbed by the Department of Defense in 2013 alone, in addition to the $487 billion in defense spending reductions already authorized by the BCA.
Further cuts through sequestration would hurt our defense industrial base and local economies. A balanced approach is needed to avoid this unnecessary impact to our national defense. House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) recently stated that spending more on defense doesn’t necessarily make us safer, and I agree — tighter budgets mean Congress needs to target spending in more strategic ways.
It is possible to have a leaner, more flexible military. However, our forces must be postured effectively, trained and fully resourced to be able to carry out their missions. The National Guard remains the most cost-effective force in our nation’s defense because of its flexibility, accessibility and experience. It is vital to our homeland defense and only it can fulfill this unique role.
The readiness of our military is critical to protecting our nation’s sea, air, land and cyberspace security, including our ability to meet the requirements of our allies. If sequestration were to occur, history indicates that our operations and maintenance accounts would be hardest hit.
The Pacific pivot strategy and the realignment of military forces throughout the Pacific is just one example of how our military is shifting to respond to emerging threats in an increasingly vital region. Asia-Pacific requirements must be prioritized, and that will require difficult decisions in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
More than a security issue, however, deep cuts to defense also mean the loss of thousands of jobs.
The DOD is the largest federal agency and the world’s single largest employer. As such, it helps sustain our nation’s workforce and provides many economic opportunities for businesses across the country. Cuts to defense spending include reductions in force throughout the services, as well as fewer construction projects and procurement opportunities.
Although we are working with a tight deadline, leadership in Congress must work together to make reasonable reductions that do not cause abrupt interruptions in our country’s ability to provide fundamental support for national security and critical health care and social services.
I believe that Congress will prevent a full sequester from occurring in January, but it will require smarter spending and making sure we have a balanced budgetary equation.
Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) is ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.