Congress should face its fear now, not later

Congress has fewer than seven months left before the first set of sequestration cuts are set to take place. These automatic reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act are expected to cut roughly $1 trillion from our nation’s deficit in the next 10 years, and will come at a huge cost to our nation’s education, healthcare and national security. 

Unsurprisingly, the only cut Republicans seem to fear is the $500 billion mandatory reduction to the defense budget. Particularly on the House side, House Republicans are completely disregarding critical domestic programs as they demand the Department of Defense go untouched in the sequestration process.

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Republicans argue that an additional $500 billion cut will be detrimental to America’s national security, especially following the $45 billion reduction DOD presented to Congress for its FY2013 defense budget. 

I agree, if such cuts are done through the sequestration — as opposed to strategic, surgical reductions made in consultation with our generals. But where was this fear when the Republicans held the debt-ceiling bill hostage until Congress agreed to pass the very bill that now threatens these detrimental cuts to our national security? 

In the midst of sequestration, the House passed the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which was $3 billion over the administration’s request. Republicans were unwilling to accept all of the cuts that were carefully vetted through the system and considered by our top military officials — so how can Republicans say that they are serious about reducing the nation’s deficit? I proposed amendments to cut various programs the department concluded unnecessary and duplicative, including excessive nuclear weapons and missile defense funding — savings that would have gone toward reducing the deficit. Unfortunately, all of my amendments were defeated. 

The fear of sequestration is having a serious effect on America’s defense industries. California’s defense industry leaders have voiced their concerns over the possible sequestration and the impact it is having on their employees and their morale as they prepare for possible layoffs. Some members of Congress are considering delaying these cuts, but a delay will not lessen the impact. A delay will further destabilize defense industries even more as the fear of sequestration lingers. 

As our nation’s deficit has risen, Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta have done a commendable job leading the charge to making an initial dent in our enormous and ever-growing defense budget.  

The Department of Defense has never been required to undergo an audit while consistently being overfunded for the past decade without any questions asked. I firmly believe the $500 billion reduction over the next eight years is only the start. There remain more inefficiencies and wasteful spending that can be eliminated from DOD. Plain and simple, sequestration is a blind and irresponsible approach to our country’s deficit problem. It is time for Congress to face its fear and recognize that further cuts will have to be made to both mandatory and discretionary funds in both defense and non-defense areas. 

Defense spending cannot always take priority over this country’s non-defense needs. A strong economy is essential to national security. We must all recognize that without further cuts from defense, it is impossible to reduce this country’s deficit. 

Together, we must identify waste that should be eliminated and the programs that cost taxpayers more money than the value they provide. Every option must be on the table, because this is not just about avoiding sequestration — it is ultimately about avoiding higher unemployment rates and the elimination of programs vital to the health and security of our country.

Sanchez is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.