For the past decade, our military commanders in the region required two aircraft carriers to contain persistent threats from Iran, Syria, the Horn of Africa, Pakistan, and to assist in the combat role in Afghanistan. In the world we are entering, a world where known national security threats go unanswered, a world where a $9 billion carrier is hobbled by the lack of funds to operate it, we no longer meet that secure standard.
If anyone believes we’ve seen the worst, they are mistaken. If the president and Congress do not find an answer to sequestration, our military will begin to dismantle the most capable, technologically-advanced, best-trained, and most effective force in the world. The pace will not be quick, not always visible to the eye of citizens, but it will slowly stop troops from performing the missions that have kept our nation, its citizens, and allies safe.
This new reality is a part of the largest round of defense cuts in America’s history. Without a change to current law, our ground forces will diminish to pre-World War II levels, our Naval forces will be slashed to their lowest levels since 1915, and our Air Force reduced to their smallest ranks in history, all beginning with sequestration on March 1.
The full effect of this process is unknown, but Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently described the impact in stark terms: “Let me tell you, if sequester happens, it is going to badly damage the readiness of the United States of America. We have the most powerful military force on the face of the earth right now. It is important in terms of providing stability and peace in the world. If sequester goes into effect and we have to do the kind of cuts that will go right at readiness, right at maintenance, right at training, we are going to weaken the United States and make it much more difficult for us to respond to the crises in the world.”
The nation is at a critical juncture, and we must put it on a path to a balanced budget without forsaking our military. Congress made recent headway by preventing the largest tax hike in history, while creating a two month window of opportunity to find cuts that would prevent sequestration. Every branch of government must play a part in putting our country on solid fiscal footing. The Defense Department is not immune, and is already implementing a half tillion dollars in cuts over the next ten years. Our military has shouldered more than its fair share. Sequestration would double those cuts and seriously degrade core capability and readiness, limit force projection, and unnecessarily risk national security.
As a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, my focus remains on finding common-sense approaches to achieve a balanced budget and fiscal responsibility while keeping our forces at the ready 24/7 around the globe.
Tough budget decisions are ahead for the entire federal government, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for the military. In Florida alone, officials predict a loss of 60,000 direct jobs and close to 180,000 additional indirect jobs if sequestration goes into effect.
Our servicemen and women deserve every possible tool as they put their lives on the line to defend liberty. Now is not the time to turn our back on them with ill-conceived budget policy. Short-sighted fiscal decisions that reverse a decade’s worth of work rebuilding our nation’s security in Florida and around the globe are not an option in my book.
The question of how to prevent a hollowing out of our military and the economic devastation of sequestration sits squarely in Washington. How the president, House, and Senate answer it will determine the strength of our national security and economy for generations to come.
Crenshaw is serving his seventh term as U.S. Representative for Florida’s Fourth Congressional District. He is a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and a life-long resident of Jacksonville, Florida.