I voted “no” on the BCA, the legislation that gave us sequestration. Since the president and many Democrats, and even some Republicans, have shown considerable interest in cutting defense, I doubted that the threat of sequestration would do anything to actually control federal spending. And I feared that it would take us down a path to devastatingly massive cuts in defense spending, hollowing our national defense, which is perhaps the most important responsibility of Congress.
Congress passed the BCA and President Obama made it law. Even though his Defense Secretary vowed that sequestration would be “completely unacceptable” to the president, Mr. Obama appears quite happy to let sequestration go forward.
We are now six months away from a first round of cuts that will eventually total $500 billion. That’s in addition to about $350 billion in cuts that have already occurred. The impact to our Armed Forces will be devastating. 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen will be separated from service, leading to the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest fleet of ships since 1915, and the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.
Sequestration needs action now. With at least $50 billion in cuts coming in just months, the defense industry is already being forced to plan for widespread layoffs that will be another blow to the economy. Work on important new technologies could be slowed or halted, jeopardizing our national security.
And, once work is forced to halt on significant defense projects, we will begin falling behind while many potential adversaries around the world are upgrading, growing and modernizing their militaries. Research and development of new technologies must be a nonstop mission when it comes to defending our nation against the endless array of threats that our enemies continue to develop. If we flip the switch “off” on research, there won’t be a quick fix to immediately restore lost capabilities. If sequestration is not stopped, there will be very real long-term implications.
This is a lesson we should have learned when President Clinton slashed military spending in the 1990s. When our nation came under attack in 2001 it took time for our military to ramp back up from the weak state in which it had been left. Sequestration could repeat that mistake and set us back years and make it more difficult to respond to future enemies.
It’s time for the Commander-in Chief to lead on reversing sequestration. If President Obama truly believes that the cuts would be “completely unacceptable,” then he needs to set aside his fundraising and campaigning long enough to call Congressional leaders together to work out a deal that will stop the cuts without increasing our nearly $16 trillion of national debt.
Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have already proposed a measure that would pay for the first year of defense sequestration by shrinking the size of government through attrition. It would also give lawmakers time to negotiate a deal to provide the rest of the savings mandated by the Budget Control Act, and end the immediate uncertainty facing our men and women in uniform, and their families.
Crucial issues are being debated as we move closer to the November elections. But sequestration must be addressed now and should not be dragged into those debates. There is already a broad consensus that another deep cut in defense spending is unacceptable. Our national security is one of government’s true constitutional responsibilities. Now, Washington must take its responsibilities seriously and stop the menacing threat of sequestration.
Fleming is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and served as a U.S. Navy doctor.