National Security Hangs in the Balance As The Pentagon Braces for Sequestration

On Wednesday, the House passed the “No Budget, No Pay Bill” which will temporarily suspend the nation’s debt ceiling until May 19th. Included in the measure is a provision that would withhold congressional pay after April 15th and extend until Congress passes a budget. During a press conference, in the middle of the House vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate would take up the House measure “as is,” and the president is expected to sign it.

The Hill reports 33 Republicans voted against it because it didn’t include any spending cuts, but 86 Democrats voted for it with the final vote being 285-144.

Representative Paul Broun (R-GA), a former Marine Corps reservist and Navy officer, says he was willing to go along with it, since no other viable solutions were on the table. “I’m very unhappy, especially as a member of the military, that we’d be having any more defense cuts,” he says. “But if the sequestration does occur, then I’ll support those cuts. I think it’s necessary to make those real kinds of cuts, and then hopefully we can restore military spending and offset it with other spending cuts elsewhere.”

The sequestration is now pretty much a certainty. Additionally, Boehner promised five influential conservatives he would push a budget that would balance in 10 years and keep spending levels at or below those set under the sequestration’s cuts.

A senior GOP aide has pointed out that sequestration lacks “the cliff-like finality” of default and can be dealt with more easily, retroactively, through legislation to restore defense spending.  That being said, getting a bill through congress is often easier said than done.

The budget debate that will now ensue is made up of three components:

1)    Debt ceiling

2)    Sequestration

3)    Budget expiration

The debt ceiling deadline, which was previously set for February, has now been postponed until late Spring.

The sequestration was enacted during the last debt limit debate in 2011 and places caps on discretionary spending and also deducts approximately $100 billion from this year’s budget.

Though Sen. Patty Murray, incoming Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, had said that she would move a package of cuts to replace the sequester, House GOP Leadership indicated, prior to Wednesday’s vote, that they were willing to allow the sequester cuts to take effect.

Then, there’s the long overdue budget. The Senate has failed to pass a budget for the past 4 years, which has subsequently spawned a series of continuing resolutions, adopted in order to keep the government running.

On several occasions, over the past year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expounded upon the serious risks involved in allowing the sequestration to go through. Panetta had asked Congress to come up with debt reduction ideas that would halt any of the defense cuts scheduled to kick in. It is tantamount to “putting a gun to our head,” he said.

In addition to national security concerns, several states such as Florida, North Carolina and Georgia that are home to military installations are anxious about the potential economic hardships, including high unemployment, their respective states will face due to sequestration.

How will sequestration impact the military? According to U-T San Diego:

  • Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says the cuts would gut the military, making it incapable of conducting maintenance, training our troops, developing and acquiring new equipment and, most importantly, executing the national security strategy.
  • Thousands of civilian employees will be furloughed, freezing all civilian hiring, laying off temporary hires and not renewing contracts with term employees.
  • All travel and training will be significantly curtailed.
  • Administrative overhead and facilities programs will also be cut.
  • Because of the long lead time requirement, DOD has approved the cancellation of all third- and fourth-quarter ship and aircraft maintenance activities effective Feb. 16.
  • All research and development contracts greater than $500 million are slated to be slashed, a severe blow to the future of our war-fighting capabilities.
  • Naval officials have testified before Congress that the barely adequate force of today’s 287 ships would decrease to 230 combatants – meaning maintaining “freedom of the seas” would be problematic.
  • Aviation assets would be cut approximately 20 percent.
  • The nation’s combat readiness and homeland security threat level preparations would be reminiscent of – but worse than – the hollow forces of the 1970s and ’90s.

At the same time, threats to U.S. national security haven’t gone away.  Contrary to Obama’s repeated assurances, Al Qaeda remains a threat to Americans located in various parts of the world.  Additionally, the so-called Arab Spring continues in Northern Africa while an often overlooked terrorist group, Boko Haram, continues to pose a threat to the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security.  Add to those the resurgence of Russia, the rise of China, North Korea’s continuing taunts and Iran burgeoning nuclear program.  And, we have an open border.

The first responsibility of Congress, stated in the United States Constitution, is to provide for the common defense. And, the first defined responsibility of the president is that of commander-in-chief.

So, it would appear that the Constitution places a distinct emphasis on the defense of the nation and it is clear that the burden of this responsibility falls directly on the legislative and executive branches.

In their pre-election chatter, leadership in both the executive and legislative branches promised that sequestration would never happen. They knew how damaging the effects would be on national security and on jobs. But, at the eleventh hour, the old Congress punted to the new Congress, giving them just two months to sort everything out.

But, Congress has shirked its responsibilities and in doing so, has placed our economy and our national security in the balance. Due to a lack of proactivity, partisan interests and lack of courage, the country is being forced forward into an uncertain future fraught with a high potential for disaster.