By Elizabeth Harrington
Advocates for a strong military assembled on Capitol Hill Wednesday to urge Congress to ensure that the push to reduce the deficit does not jeopardize the defense budget.
Legislation passed in August to raise the debt ceiling, the Budget Control Act, handed a bipartisan "super committee" the responsibility to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion.
A panel convened by the Coalition for the Common Defense discussed what it called the committee's "daunting mandate of reigning in federal spending" and the need to "provide for the common defense."
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a participant on the panel, warned that the super committee's deliberations may result in "gutting our military to the point of transforming the unipolar superpower of the world into a regional power."
If the 12-member committee -- comprising an equal number of Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate -- fails to agree by Nov. 23 on reducing the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, a "sequestration" trigger will go into effect.
According to a Department of Defense news report, the DOD "would then face more than $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years" -- cuts described by outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III as "catastrophic."
"Sequestration would leave us with the smallest Army and Marine Corps in decades; the smallest Air Force in history, and the smallest Navy since [William] McKinley was president," the report quoted Lynn as saying Wednesday, his final day in office.
During the panel discussion, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Co.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said it was "entirely" possible that the committee may fail to reach consensus.
The Coalition for the Common Defense is an alliance of like-minded individuals and organizations working to maintain strong military spending.
Its statement of principles includes warnings relating to "rogue states" Iran and North Korea, China's military buildup, ballistic missile threats, terrorism and cyber-attacks.
Joining Franks and Lamborn on the panel were Reps. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Paul Broun (R-Ga.).
Other participants included American Enterprise Institute scholar Tom Donnelly, Let Freedom Ring president Colin Hanna, Veterans for a Strong America chairman Joel Arends, Flag & General Officers' Network chairman Rear Admiral Jim Carey, Center for Military Readiness president Elaine Donnelly, 60 Plus Association chairman Jim Martin, Aerospace Industries Association vice-president Cord Sterling and Scott Cooper of the Virginia Tea Party Federation.
Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney, who moderated the panel, said the coalition was needed "at a time when the world is becoming vastly more dangerous."
Forbes, also a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the core question was, "Is the future of American optimistic or is it pessimistic?"
"I think, in large measure, that answer may be asked and answered for us literally in the next several weeks," he added.
Franks said the nation's economy was tied to its security.
"Two airplanes hitting two buildings cost this nation's economy two trillion dollars," he said. "I don't know if there's a better example of saying that we could be penny wise and very pound foolish here, if we're not cautious."
Broun, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, pointed to border security concerns.
"I can tell you that we have people coming across the border, both north and south, that want to harm us," he said.
"[The] problems that the Defense Department faces are beyond what any wonk or expert can possibly solve," said Donnelly, who heads the AEI's Center for Defense Studies.
He asserted that it was not a new trend for the defense budget to take the brunt of federal spending cuts. "It's been a steady pattern since the end of the Cold War," he said, citing presidents of both parties who have overseen shrinking defense budgets.
"This is a question not only for the current moment, but for the coming presidential campaign," Donnelly said. "We'll have a chance to have a new commander-in-chief, but the question is whether the forces that he or she commands will be adequate to the task."