Time to reverse the budget caps

We’re often asked why the aerospace and defense industry and groups advocating for government’s core domestic functions are jointly fighting the severe cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011.

From Fiscal Years 2016 to 2019 the cuts will cap the defense budget at a level $115 billion below what the Defense Department says is minimally required to meet our national security needs, and place similar shackles on the ability of domestic federal agencies to invest in the health and well being of our people.  Yet, many assume we are polar opposites battling each other for slices of the shrinking budget pie.  

ADVERTISEMENT
The truth is our groups have much in common, and we don’t believe the status quo is tenable.  NDD United recognizes without the contributions of aerospace and defense companies, such vital domestic government activities as weather forecasting, air traffic management, and medical research on the International Space Station wouldn’t be possible.  Further, the aerospace and defense industry knows the education, health, job training, and research programs that NDD-United champions in addition to benefitting society, bolster our industrial base. 

To keep America strong and avoid doing long-term damage to the economy, we both understand there’s a point at which mindless budget cutting harms the nation’s security in an increasingly volatile world, and undermines the potential of the economy to grow and improve everyone’s life.  And we also believe it is bad policy, as the BCA requires, for the Defense Department and the domestic agencies, which represent only 40 percent of the federal budget, to be forced to shoulder nearly 100 percent of the budget cuts.

The potential impacts of the cuts were illustrated in stark relief recently when the Pentagon issued its report, “Estimated Impacts of Sequestration-Level Funding,” fulfilling Defense Secretary Hagel’s commitment to lay out in specific detail the effects on national defense of the budget caps.   Under the budget law, “Our forces will assume substantial additional risks in certain missions and will continue to face significant readinesss and modernization challenges,” warns the report. “These impacts would leave our military unbalanced and eventually too small to meet the needs of our strategy fully.”  The specifics are sobering: The Army and Marine Corps will be forced to shrink to pre-World War II levels, training will be sacrificed yet again, and the part of the budget that provide our war fighters with the equipment that they need to survive in modern day and future warfare will be slashed by  more than $66 billion.  

The public also deserves to know the implications of the BCA caps on the domestic side of the ledger, including activities such as air traffic control, medical research and innovative treatments, Coast Guard search and rescue, border patrol, food and water safety inspection, jobs training and national parks management.  Unfortunately, we don’t have that information from the other agencies, but the American people need it so they know what choices they are being forced to make by indiscriminate caps to the federal discretionary budget. 

The good and underreported news as policy makers consider alternatives to the budget caps is that substantial progress is being made toward  reducing the debt and deficit.  A recent Congressional Budget Office report notes the U.S. government’s deficit has fallen almost a third below fiscal year 2013 and will shrink again next year.   Now is a time to recalibrate and recognize that cutting away our nation’s investments in future security, innovation and the well being of our people is not a recipe for long-term success.

Decision makers need to recognize that the arbitrary and unchanging budget caps have real consequences in the lives of Americans.  They need to recognize that times and circumstances have changed since the BCA was signed.    We have all watched Congress contort itself into knots, consuming valuable time searching for piecemeal workarounds to make austerity workable, while our military, police, scientists, teachers, elderly and children get less support even as the global environment grows more competitive and more dangerous.  It’s time to eliminate the BCA  caps, and empower future Congresses to perform one of their most fundamental missions – reviewing and providing for the needs of the nation, each year, based on current economic, social and national security circumstances.

Blakey is president & CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. Holubowich is the founding co-chair of NDD United.