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Today, sequestration is the elephant in the room whenever we talk about the defense industry. Devastating cuts to our national defense base could take effect at the beginning of next year. Republicans are now using the threat of cuts as leverage for their old flawed strategy of gutting important programs while refusing any logical revenue increases. 

Under the BCA’s sequestration formula, defense programs would be cut by $54.7 billion each year from 2013 through 2021. (Non-defense programs would be cut by the same amount.) Cuts to the defense budget would slash programs equally across the board, reducing pay and benefits to military personnel and cancelling important procurement projects. This is an unacceptable risk to our national security, and we must act to prevent it.
Unfortunately, as Congress stumbles in crafting a plan to avoid sequestration, the consequences are already impacting the economy and private sector alike. Regardless of whether sequestration takes place, businesses must plan based on what is in current law. Large defense contractors have to project savings to make up for the revenues lost from reduced government contracts, and an immediate way to generate savings is by laying people off.

According to a recent study published by the National Association of Manufacturers, should the cuts under sequestration take effect, over one million private sector jobs will be lost in 2014, including up to a million in the defense industry. This would reduce our country’s gross domestic product by a whole percentage point, and increase unemployment by 0.7 percent. In Hawaii, where we rank second in the United States in federal defense spending as a portion of state gross domestic product, these cuts will be felt deeper than other places, immediately removing millions of dollars from our state economy.

It is particularly hard to recover from losses in our defense industrial base, and Congress must find ways to ensure this segment remains strong and economically viable. For example, the shipbuilding industry, which is critical to my home state, would lose 3.3 percent of its jobs immediately after sequestration takes place, possibly affecting hundreds of thousands of our country’s hard working men and women. But it’s not just jobs at risk; we would lose a critical component of our national security. What would it mean to our military if we did not have the expertise to build a cutting-edge aircraft carrier or destroyer? This is the type of setback that we cannot inflict on our defense industries.

Sequestration is hard because it’s supposed to be. It was intended to bring the opposing parties to the table and motivate them to negotiate a way of spending less. That is why President Obama has threatened to veto legislation overturning the sequestration; it will force us to make the tough choices in reducing the debt and deficit now. Reducing the federal deficit is the responsibility of Congress, and requires concerted action to reach a bipartisan solution to our nation’s budget needs. 

This solution should not at any point include attempts to replace the sequester with deep cuts to  programs that help seniors, children, and the middle class, in order to maintain tax breaks for millionaires, billionaires, and oil companies. That would reflect not only Republicans’ attempt to avoid the budgetary effects of their own refusal to negotiate in good faith, but also their disinterest in the concerns and priorities of ordinary citizens. A fair and balanced approach is one that continues to prioritize our national security while ensuring that important social programs continue to serve the population in need.

Rep. Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.