By U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1)
Across the world today, the United States faces a wide range of serious threats, ranging from Russia to Iran to China to the Islamic State. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has called this the most “diverse and complex array of crises since the end of the Second World War.” Given this challenging environment, you would expect the United States to be building up military capabilities to help protect our nation’s security.
Unfortunately, ill-conceived cuts to national defense over the last few years have left our military men and women in a very perilous situation. During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee last week, leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines made clear that the current budget cuts could result in the loss of lives, more injuries and failed military operations.
Think about that for a minute. Our nation’s military leaders are telling Congress that military cuts will result in service members being killed or injured due to a lack of resources and training. This is very serious. Military readiness will take a significant hit. Innovation and maintenance projects will be cancelled. Frankly, the security of our nation will be put at risk.
So how did we get to this point? You may remember back in 2011 when House Republicans and Senate Democrats were at an impasse over the debt limit. Republicans were correctly insisting on serious spending cuts, but Democrats were more interested in raising taxes. In the end, President Obama came forward with a solution known as the Budget Control Act.
Under the Budget Control Act, a bipartisan deficit reduction committee was established to find over a trillion dollars in cuts. The committee had until the end of 2011 to come up with these cuts or else something known as sequestration would occur. Sequestration would result in across the board, indiscriminate cuts leading to deficit reduction of greater than a trillion dollars. In an effort to make sure sequestration didn’t actually happen, it was decided that the cuts would be split evenly between defense and non-defense spending.
Ultimately, the deficit reduction committee failed to come up with a solution and the across-the-board cuts went into effect. Immediately, the effects were seen across the country. The worst thing about the sequester cuts is they don’t allow military leaders to prioritize where money is spent. There is no logic behind the cuts.
I wasn’t in Congress when the Budget Control Act passed, but I would not have supported this outlandish proposal. I am strongly committed to cutting spending, but doing it on the back of our military is entirely the wrong approach. Cutting military spending doesn’t even begin to solve our nation’s spending problems. In fact, defense spending only makes up around 16% of federal spending yet sequestration puts 50% of the cuts on defense.
In reality the real driver of our debt isn’t discretionary spending at all. If we really want to get serious about deficit reduction, we must tackle means tested entitlement programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and disability. These are important programs for Americans who are truly in need, but they are not sustainable on their current path.
Ultimately, I believe we must repeal the Budget Control Act and end these dangerous cuts to national defense that are putting our service members at risk. Instead, we should move forward with spending reforms that are well-thought out and that actually target the long-term drivers of our debt.
I reject the notion that you have to be either a defense hawk or a budget hawk. I consider myself to be both. We must get serious about cutting spending, but let’s not do so at the expense of our safety and security.