A casual glimpse at the headlines these days confirms that America faces a daunting combination of a dangerous national security environment and a volatile global economy.
We are still at war in Afghanistan. Iran and North Korea appear intent on building nuclear weapons. Tensions are brewing in the South China Sea. The Arab Spring marches across the Middle East, spreading both hope and uncertainty in an unstable region. And Al Qaeda continues its search for safe havens to plot attacks on our homeland. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are still out of work as the unemployment rate inches up again. And the global economy is sluggish, as the European fiscal crisis continues unabated and China seems to be headed for a slowdown.
Such a combination of security threats and economic peril illustrates the complete irrationality of sequestration, the devastating cuts due to hit our military on Jan. 2, unless Congress acts to avert it. As one of the most senior military officers recently told me, this is the most dangerous time he has seen in his four decades of service. Despite that warning, sequestration would do what no other external enemy could -- cripple our economy and defenses in a single blow.
Sequestration would mean a total of $1 trillion in cuts to our military over the next 10 years. America would have its smallest ground force since before World War II, its smallest n Navy since before World War I and its smallest air force Air Force in the history of the service. Sequestration would limit America's power and influence in the world and restrict our ability to defend vital interests. It would render any manner of strategy and planning in the Pentagon essentially meaningless.
Sequestration's impact on the economy would be sudden and severe. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimated in a recent report that sequestration would result in the loss of about 1 million jobs in 2013 and 2014 and a half a percent cut to America's already meager economic growth.
And it's not just defense jobs at stake. It wouldn't just be the soldier returning home from Afghanistan to a pink slip, or merely the engineer building new fighters receiving a layoff notice. It would be the tailor repairing service members' uniforms, the restaurant owner feeding their families off base and the teacher educating their children.
Some in Washington seem to look gleefully on the prospect of deep defense cuts. According to their rhetoric, defense is not just a sacred cow for conservatives but a fatted calf bloated beyond reason by special interests. Before we can address any sequestration solution, we must put an end to these pernicious political talking points.
There has been a broad bipartisan consensus for decades about the size and scope of our military. That's why the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy for our military, is possibly the only annual piece of legislation to have a standing record of 50 consecutive years of passage. In the l past 10 years, the gridlocked Senate has approved the measure overwhelmingly each year, including five times by unanimous consent or voice vote. For the l past nine years, the House has approved the bill with the support, on average, of 80 percent of its members.
That consensus must now be devoted to finding a solution. Sequestration is not just a problem for defense hawks. Sequestration is not a problem for Republicans or Democrats alone. It's a problem for every American concerned about our national security and economic prosperity.
As they have made clear publicly, major national security officials in the Obama administration consider the prospect of sequestration to be disastrous. House Republicans have offered multiple solutions to avert a crisis, including a reconciliation package passed by the House that would avert sequestration in 2013.
For all their talk of balanced solutions and the urgent need for compromise, President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have offered nothing but vague talking points about revenues and tax increases. When we should urgently be coming together, Democrats are cynically running out the clock, hoping to use the threat of devastating cuts to our military to pass a domestic agenda that has little public support.
As late as last week, I personally asked the president's budget director to testify before my committee on the administration's plans and projected impacts for sequestration. I asked him to commit to testifying in mid-July. He did not agree.
It's deeply discouraging that the president's senior officials are unwilling to discuss process and consequences. What does their reluctance portend for the prospect of a deal?
Now is the time to stop posturing and start working. We understand that our plans will not be identical, that we have different ideas about how to fix the problem. But only after these ideas are presented can we actually begin debating them and arriving at a common solution. Republicans have passed legislation. It's time for the president and Democrats and to do their part.
I'm eager for the president and Senate Democrats to offer an actual plan so we can begin that work right away.