Our military faces devastating reductions in capability unless the Senate and President Obama will join the House of Representatives in acting to prevent debilitating spending cuts -- half of which were never meant to be enacted.
The Pentagon is slated for $487 billion in cuts under President Obama's budget. That means that over the next five years, the military will be forced to carry out its missions with70,000 fewer soldiers, 20,000 fewer Marines, 25 fewer combat vessels and seven fewer aircraft fighter wings.
Then there are the sequester cuts. The $1.2 trillion in arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts collectively known as "sequestration" were designed as a threat, not as workable policy. The sequester provision was included in last year's Budget Control Act to motivate the House and Senate to agree to a responsible debt reduction plan, or else face the sequester cuts universally understood to be terribly damaging. The cost to Oklahoma's economy alone could be up to 16,000 jobs and $630 million.
As we all know now, the Congressional "Supercommittee" failed to reach agreement, and the sequester cuts were transformed from ultimatum to impending reality. A vastly disproportionate 40 percent of the sequester cuts are set to come from military spending -- even though defense represents only about one-fifth of the budget. The prospect of $492 billion in cuts on top of the previously scheduled $487 billion drawdown are prompting military leaders to speak out in stark language about the consequences of such a steep and sudden reduction in resources.
Even President Obama's own Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, describes the sequester reductions as "dangerous cuts" that "would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military's ability to protect the nation." In short, Panetta says, "We'd be shooting ourselves in the head."
The House took action in May to cancel the random sequester cuts and replace them with targeted reductions that focus on the federal budget as a whole. Predictably, the legislation was rejected by the president and ignored by the Democratic Senate.
The House acted yet again on July 18 by passing the Sequestration Transparency Act. This bipartisan legislation would require President Obama's administration to provide a detailed report to Congress regarding how it intends to implement the sequester cuts set to begin taking effect in January. The sequester has already put the military in an untenable situation, and the Obama administration's failure to disclose any guidance on the reductions is causing even more uncertainty in the armed forces and undermining their ability to provide for our defense. Complying with the legislation would force the Senate and White House to confront the reality of the sequester.
House Republicans also approved the Defense Appropriations Act, allocating military funding for 2013. In contrast to the irresponsible sequester cuts, this legislation makes thoughtful reductions of $28 billion and 21,000 personnel while preserving our defense capabilities. The appropriations bill serves as a lesson to those who believe the United States spends too much on defense. In reality, we spend less and less as a percentage of our federal budget and our overall wealth every year. In the 1970s, we were spending 40 percent-plus of the federal budget; this year, it's less than 20 percent. Our military spending represented 9 percent of GDP at the height of the Cold War; this year, it is barely 4 percent.
These two pieces of legislation demonstrate a responsible approach to defense funding that cuts wasteful spending but maintains our ability to defend ourselves. Time is running out for the Senate and White House to join the House in working to stop the devastating sequester cuts that military leaders warn will gut our defense capabilities.