The World Is Watching Sequester's Defense Cuts

By Sen. Roger Wicker

The United States military - the strongest and best-led fighting force in the world - faces real and formidable challenges. Now is not the time to let down our guard.

Maintaining a robust American presence is essential to confronting the saber rattling by North Korea, the looming specter of a nuclear-armed Iran, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and the ever-present threat of attack by terrorists. Unfortunately, recent cuts to the Department of Defense (DOD) budget are jeopardizing our military's readiness.

The Budget Control Act, which passed in 2011, required immediate cuts and established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reduce the national deficit by an additional $1.5 trillion. The committee's failure to identify savings triggered an automatic $1.2 trillion in across-the-board budget cuts.

Many Americans may be surprised to learn that sequestration does not end with this fiscal year. Unless undone, the Pentagon will face an additional $52 billion in mandatory cuts when the next fiscal year begins on October 1. Under sequestration, the Pentagon's budget will be cut by $492 billion over the next 10 years.

I have long supported replacing sequestration with sensible budget savings that effectively rein in government spending. I believe tackling Washington's spending problem is imperative to our national and economic security. However, sequestration's indiscriminate cuts disproportionately affect our country's defense and pose a serious threat to national security.

At a time when our troops may be called upon to respond to crises on the Korean Peninsula and in the Middle East, sequestration has led to a reduction of 94,000 Air Force flight hours. Seventeen combat squadrons - nearly a third of our combat fleet - have been completely grounded. Air Force leaders have testified that it may take at least six months to a year to return these squadrons to combat-ready status. This is unacceptable.

Equally unacceptable is President Obama's budget, which does not take into account the continuation of sequestration, let alone attempt to fix the problem. As a veteran and the father of an Air Force officer, I am seriously concerned by the President's absence of leadership regarding the future of our military. In fact, I am uncomfortable with my son signing on as a career serviceman in the Air Force, due in part to this administration's incompetent handling of the sequestration and disregard for military readiness.

House Republicans have passed legislation to replace sequestration with reasonable alternatives. Similar Republican proposals have been introduced in the Senate. In the past, President Obama and Senate Democrats have thwarted our attempts to provide DOD with the flexibility needed to ease the impact of the cuts with some discretion over where they fall.

Fortunately, there are some promising opportunities for bipartisan cooperation on the horizon, starting with the Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the 2014 Defense Authorization Bill. The bill contains many provisions reflecting Congress' support of the Defense Department's top strategic priorities and anticipates the challenges we may encounter while outlining ways to reduce spending. This should be an opportunity for both parties to work together now to avoid permanent harm to our troops and to our security. Time will tell whether the President will join us in this endeavor.

The American people are justifiably proud of the courage and excellence displayed by our men and women in uniform. They have helped pave the way for a more secure, stable, and peaceful world for our children. We should honor their sacrifices by not squandering the progress we have made and not turning a blind eye to the challenges that remain.

All Americans, as well as our adversaries and allies abroad, are watching carefully to see whether Washington can muster the will to address our fiscal crisis while maintaining essential national priorities.

 

Roger Wicker represents Mississippi in the U.S. Senate and serves as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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