Evolving threats require a return to basic priorities

In a packed Senate Armed Services Committee room earlier this year, former national security adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said the U.S. now faces “a more diverse and complex array of crises since the end of the Second World War.” Open up a major newspaper today, and it is not difficult to see the truth in Kissinger’s statement.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen stories of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria overtaking one of central Iraq’s biggest cities, Ramadi, killing innocent civilians, and forcing police and citizens to flee; a Taliban suicide car bomb that killed at least three near an airport in Kabul, Afghanistan; a teenage extremist thought to be acting for Boko Haram who blew herself up in Nigeria, killing seven and wounding 33 others; Baltic states preparing for Russian incursion on the heels of a takeover of Crimea; and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson describing a new phase of terrorism that brings the threat to our shores.

ADVERTISEMENT

Clearly, our national security is being tested on many fronts and now, more than ever, is the time to bolster our ability to meet the evolving threats of today.

Unfortunately, even with these ominous threats, the greatest threat to our national security is the decline of our military power brought by disastrous sequestration cuts, which former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said were “like shooting ourselves in the head.” As the only Republican to sit on both the House Armed Services and Budget committees, I have been in a unique position to see the effects of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and sequestration, combined with the crush of out-of-control spending — and they do not paint a pretty picture.

The BCA, which I voted against, along with sequestration, has reduced military personnel, eliminated modernization programs and brought a marked decline in our military readiness. Earlier this year in a House Armed Services hearing, I heard Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James testify, “Sequestration is going to put American lives at risk, at home and abroad. We cannot meet demands.” During the same hearing, Secretary of the Army John McHugh warned, “If sequestration isn’t reversed, troop end strength will be reduced to unconscionable levels.”

With these cuts, the Army will be cut to its smallest size since 1941, just before the United States entered World War II; the Air Force, which already has its smallest inventory of fighters and bombers ever, will see readiness plummet, jeopardizing air superiority and the ability to provide air support to ground troops; the Navy will be reduced to its smallest number since World War I, at a time when China is stirring up animosity in the South China Sea and Iran is doing the same in the Strait of Hormuz; and the Marine Corps, largely seen as our all-encompassing fighting force, will see drastic losses in personnel and training.

Currently, defense spending accounts for some 18 percent of the federal budget. By 2019, defense spending is projected to represent only 12 percent of our budget — a far cry from the 49 percent it constituted in 1962. Further, even though it does not drive the deficit, it is slated to take around 50 percent — $1 trillion over the next 10 years — of the cuts brought on by the BCA and sequestration.

As defense spending falls to levels that put our country in even greater danger, mandatory spending continues to swell. To compare, by 2019, mandatory spending is projected to be 75 percent of our total spending as a nation, and will surpass revenues by 2030. If allowed to continue under current policy, mandatory spending alone would bankrupt the country.

Outside of repealing the BCA or forging a sequester relief agreement similar to the Ryan-Murray agreement, we must get serious about reforming programs that continue to bloat the spending side of our budget and lead us to the false assumption that defense spending is too high. Protecting, preserving and reforming programs such as Medicare and Social Security to honor the promises we have made to those currently in the programs, while saving tax dollars and ensuring they are sustainable for future generations, is a must. Without sufficient progress in this effort, our nation will continue to suffer.

The BCA and lack of movement on much-needed reforms have weakened our nation, and will continue to do so until we get our priorities back in line with the Constitution and work to “provide for the common defense [and] promote the general Welfare.” It is our obligation in Congress to do both, and that will require real reform and a repeal of the BCA — our future depends on it.

Hartzler has represented Missouri’s 4th Congressional District since 2011. She sits on the Agriculture, Armed Services and Budget committees.