In sequestration, president and Congress undermining military

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Sequestration is the law of the land. It happened despite protests from both right and left that it was a stupid and harmful way to cut spending. It is a manifestation of our broken political process, and happened because Congress and the White House simply are not doing their jobs.

Billy Padavich (center) and other civilian employees of contractor Magic City Enterprises stock the commissary shelves after hours at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. A base spokesperson said each the 1,100 civilians employed on the base could face forced furlough days amounting to about $8,000 in lost annual income if federal sequestration measures are enacted.  DAN CEPEDA /ASSOCIATED PRESS
Billy Padavich (center) and other civilian employees of contractor Magic City Enterprises stock the commissary shelves after hours at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. A base spokesperson said each the 1,100 civilians employed on the base could face forced furlough days amounting to about $8,000 in lost annual income if federal sequestration measures are enacted.

The public has watched the stalemate in Washington, D.C., in disgust, and most agree that sequestration is no way to run a country. But, frustrated by politicians who won’t reduce the deficit, many people are accepting bad spending cuts as preferable to no spending cuts.

Most people are unaware that sequestration is only the most recent of several blows to our military in the past two years. Cutting fat is one thing, but cutting military muscle is not wise.

IN JANUARY 2011, the secretary of defense made the decision to reduce the size of the Army by 27,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 20,000 Marines. These cuts do not take effect until 2014 and 2015, so the military will be absorbing this troop loss at the same time they are dealing with financial cuts discussed below.

Wars are expensive, and the government properly funds war expenditures from a separate account. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, these contingency funds will disappear – a necessary but painful process. However, it is difficult to completely separate peacetime and wartime costs, and the contingency funds invariably have helped military funding in general. Elimination of war contingency funding is appropriate, but nevertheless creates financial difficulties for the military.

A huge blow to military funding was dealt by the Budget Control Act, the result of the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations. These negotiations cut $1 trillion from discretionary spending over a decade, nearly $500 billion of which came from the military. The military is still addressing this financial loss, with most of the cuts still ahead.

The next funding trauma comes from the failure of Congress to approve the 2013 budget. Instead, Congress has pegged funding at 2012 levels through a device known as a “continuing resolution.” This creates circumstances in which the military cannot move funds between accounts without congressional approval, so the money from a program the military decides to eliminate in 2013 cannot be used to fund a new program.

The final challenge thrown at the military is the sequester, which requires another $500 billion cut in this decade. Because the military must make so many cuts so quickly, and with little latitude on where to make cuts, training and readiness will be decimated.

THOSE WHO support sequestration emphasize that the amount being cut is only about 2.4 percent of the federal budget. That is only part of the story. So much of the budget has been protected from cuts that the military must absorb a cut of about 9 percent – and they must do it in six months!

The Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, articulated the impact on the Army. In the next six months the sequester cuts $12 billion, and the continuing resolution makes $6 billion more unavailable. As a result, 251,000 Army civilians will be furloughed; 80 percent of stateside soldiers will stop training; and 500 to 750 helicopter pilots won’t be trained. The loss of these trained pilots will be felt for years, because the training pipeline cannot expand enough to replace them later.

The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will suffer similar degradations in readiness.

A post-war drawdown is necessary, but always traumatic for the military. Thousands of good people are forced out of the service, bases must be closed and new weapons systems cut back or eliminated.

But the irresponsible cuts from sequestration, and the continuing resolution that Congress and the president have imposed on the military, amount to piling on. They will make an always-difficult transition far more perilous, and will degrade national security to an extent yet unknown.

THE DEBILITATING effect is not instantaneous. There will be a slow deterioration of our military’s readiness, modernization, force levels and morale. America will be less prepared the next time there is a threat to our security. And just as it will be a slow deterioration, it will be a slow recovery when we finally recognize we have cut our military too much, too fast and too thoughtlessly.

In Washington nothing is ever over, and in the case of sequestration that is a good thing. Congress and the White House can accomplish several things in the coming weeks to mitigate the worst impacts of sequestration, while preserving needed deficit reduction.

Job No. 1 is for Congress and the White House to provide flexibility to federal departments and agencies on how to make the cuts. Instead of the meat cleaver approach directed by the sequester and the continuing resolution, modify the law to allow the military to make smarter spending cuts. Provide them a dollar value of cuts by year, and then let Congress approve what they propose.

THE NEXT CHANGE is for Congress to go back to work and find entitlement cuts and revenue increases to reduce the total amount of the cuts. Then they need to change the timing of the cuts to recognize that 2013 cuts are the most damaging.

The reason the president and Congress cannot agree is because they won’t compromise on revenue and entitlements. Both know it needs to be done, but they would rather engage in a childish mano-a-mano struggle in which compromise is feared, and the country’s security is less important than their own political power. We would be far better served if our politicians had the courage of the military they are undermining.

The postwar drawdown of the military is necessary. But America has a sad history of imagining that we are no longer threatened, cutting too deep and finding itself with a diminished and weakened military. Let’s learn from history so we are not doomed to repeat it.

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

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deestafford 03/10/13 - 08:23 am
This column is spot on as to the problems caused.

One of the things people don't realize about the end of a war is that the equipment has taken a beating in the combat zone and for the most part is worn out. It must be replaced for continued training and preparation for the next war. That is a necessary expense which is over looked by politicians in their haste to "end the war". It costs a lot of money to "end the war".
I disagree with the point the writer makes about a "balanced approach" of revenue increases and spending cuts. Revenue increases is just anothter way of saying taxes. Increasing taxes decreases revenue to the government. Everytime taxes are cut, revenue goes up. We are overtaxed now! Spending needs to be cut! Spending has been doubled since 2000 and that is ridiculous. Nancy Pelosi said the other day that tax cuts or deductions are tax expenditure. Her meaning was that anything that gives money back to the people is taking away from the government's money and that all the money belongs to the government. Our spending problems are caused by the increase of the nanny state run by an "elite ruling class" who think we are too stupid to take care of ourselves.

ymnbde 03/10/13 - 09:22 am
yet we still have NPR

seems the cuts are oddly prioritized...

Darby 03/10/13 - 11:40 am
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor......

America rushed to mobilize our military which had been cut to shameful levels. Go back and do some research. You will find that while we could draft all the soldiers we needed, we had virtually no equipment.

Pilots without planes to fly, drivers without tanks or trucks to operate. No protective (gas) masks although chemical warfare was used extensively in WWI. And so on...

Photographs of that era depict recruits marching in basic training using sawed off broomsticks in lieu of rifles.

The same mindset is at work in the White House and much of Congress today. For many, the advancement and maintenance of the nanny state carries a much higher priority. It's a military some libertarians and most liberals and progressives yearn for.

Fortunately the limited technology of 1942 kept our enemies away from our shores and allowed us to slowly rebuild and regain our strength. That is a luxury we don't have in the 21st century and will never know again.

dstewartsr 03/10/13 - 04:18 pm
The problem is...

there is no downside for the politicians. Most of the military didn't vote for them; the few who did, their votes were not needed and went in the trash with the ones who didn't. Despite the weakening our military has taken this last decade --not just the sequester, but constant unremitting wear and tear on our forces-- we are still much too formidable to take on without massive preparation by a foreign power. A buildup that would constitute ample warning. Frankly, most of the real threats are in such a state they cannot take advantage of our disorder because of their own.

Short answer (too late!): little chance this will bite the perpetrators in the buttocks.

Darby 03/10/13 - 11:36 pm
"we are still much too formidable to take....

on without massive preparation"

Happy to know you feel that way, but the crazies in North Korea and Iran aren't necessarily that logical. When the voices in their heads tell them to go, they will go. The more powerful we are, the less likely those "voices" will be inclined to speak.

And, it's not just the U.S. we have to worry about. We still have interests and allies around the globe that could drag us into conflict.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/11/13 - 12:06 am
I support President Obama's sequestration

The sequestration mandates a 2.3% reduction in expenditures. Our military is so bloated that they can find 2.3% of wasteful spending in a New York minute. Cut back on the bloat. That does not cripple military readiness. The war in Afghanistan is winding down without crushing the Taliban. The consequences will come back another day.

"But, ’til that day," to quote a song, there is plenty of money the military can stop spending to give us taxpayers some relief.

Darby 03/11/13 - 12:40 am
Lamb - You must have missed the memo....

Obama doesn't support "his" sequestration. Although he first proposed it, he now says he didn't. He's a liar, but you knew that.

As for the military, as long as it's only 2+ percent I'll buy it. But as soon as the prog/libs start using the military to fund their giveaway programs, it's NO DEAL!

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