Through sequestration, broken Congress will break the military

Another ugly reminder of our broken Congress became evident recently as Republican Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan and Democratic Chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee Patty Murray both said they believe sequestration is likely.

 

Sequestration is the mindless cutting of $600 billion in defense programs and $600 billion in domestic programs over the next 10 years. Sequestration was never intended to happen, but was designed to be so unpalatable it would force Congress to make difficult decisions.

IT IS THE OUTCOME of the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations directing a special supercommittee to formulate a reasonable debt reduction plan. When the supercommittee failed, the sequestration decision was sent back to the entire Congress as part of the Jan. 1 “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Congress then postponed a decision until March 1, when sequestration will go into effect unless Congress takes action.

So much for forcing Congress to make difficult decisions.

On the domestic side, sequestration will result in significant cuts. According to the White House Budget Office, sequestration will lead to the “furlough of hundreds of thousands of employees and reduce essential services such as food inspections, air travel safety, prison security, border patrols and other mission-critical activities.”

Sequestration’s greatest damage, however, is to the military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote Congress: “(W)e will have to ground aircraft, return ships to port, and stop driving combat vehicles in training.” Secretary
of Defense Leon Panetta said
imposing sequestration on the
military is “shameful and irresponsible” and will “invite aggression.”

We unequivocally need to reduce the deficit and cut spending, but we need to do it intelligently. Because there are only seven months remaining in the fiscal year to absorb nearly an entire year’s cut, spending cuts have to come from expenses that can be eliminated quickly. That means cuts will fall disproportionately on military readiness.

THE SECRETARY of the Navy said individual services should be told the amount they must cut. Then, instead of simply cutting everything across the board, allow the services to make cuts strategically. That makes sense.

If the calamitous effects on the military were not enough, full sequestration is estimated to reduce gross domestic product growth by 1 percent and cost 1 million jobs. To preserve a fragile economy, Congress should adjust the timing of sequestration cuts, as well as their magnitude and indiscriminate nature.

Georgia could be particularly hard-hit from sequestration. The Pew Center on the States found that Georgia’s federal grants subject to sequester as a percentage of state income is the second-highest in the country.

The two parties have taken their tired rigid positions and refuse to compromise, having learned little from previous failures. The Democrats refuse to cut entitlements and accept only minimal discretionary spending cuts. Republicans refuse any revenue increases.

Each party knows the other will not accept their plan. Both have their talking points prepared, blaming failure on the other. But it won’t work; neither party will escape voters’ wrath if they fail.

According to the latest Gallup Poll, Americans have the least confidence in Congress and the highest confidence in the military. Isn’t it ironic that the lowest-ranked institution in America doesn’t have the political
courage to support the highest-ranked?

GEORGIA’S SENATORS and representatives are strong military advocates. They should do everything in their power to bring their respective parties to a reasonable sequestration solution.

Why would Congress be handed a poison pill, and then choose to swallow it?

Action for Congress: Spit out the pill, fix sequestration, preserve our military and help the economy recover.

(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)

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