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Fiscal Cliff 2013: Why U.S. National Security Will Be Damaged by Sequestration

On his inauguration day in January four years ago, the newly-minted President Obama began crafting the “stimulus,” a package of money intended to save the economy from tumbling into a second Great
Depression. Today, just two months away from his second inauguration, Barack Obama faces an equally risky economic challenge: preventing a series of devastating budget cuts called "sequestration."

This time around, though, the stakes could be even higher. If sequestration happens, our national security could be put into jeopardy. Sequestration would shrink the Department of Defense's budget by $500 billion. This would crush the military’s ability to equip, train and transport its troops.

In the scope of American history, sequestration is a rare thing: a law so devastating that it was never intended to actually get implemented. Created as safeguard against congressional gridlock, it would cause across-the-board spending reductions for the entire federal government, slashing funding for everything from firefighters to aircraft carriers.

America is facing new threats — cyber warfare, Iran’s nuclear ambition, rising radicalism in Africa — and it must have the flexibility and finances to face those challenges. As the U.S. military is ending a 10-year war in Afghanistan and repositioning itself in the Asia-Pacific, the last thing it needs is a lack of resources. Simply put, sequestration would crush our national defense budget and leave troops without the necessary capabilities to keep America safe.

It begs the question: how did we end up in this position?

This August, Congress passed the Budget Control Act as a way to curb America's skyrocketing debt. The act tasked a bipartisan group of representatives (called the "Super Committee") to cut almost $1
trillion from the federal budget. If they didn't, a mechanism called "sequestration" would kick in on January 1, 2013. It was a last-resort tool, something meant to kick-start Congress out of gridlock. Yet, gridlock is exactly what has happened. As of today, Congress has less than 60 days to agree on how to cut that $1 trillion. If it doesn't, nearly every part of the federal budget will be automatically slashed by about 10%.

Sequestration will cut $1.2 trillion by 2021. The Office of Management and Budget described this process as “deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments and core government functions.”

What’s more, the Department of Defense (DoD) has already made significant contributions in reducing America’s debt.

Since 9/11, defense spending has nearly doubled. The U.S. was fighting two wars on a credit card, racking up bills in Afghanistan and Iraq that it didn’t have the funds to pay. But today, the military is reigning in spending. The Army and Marines are cutting troop levels and investing in a slimmer (and cheaper) menu of weapons systems. Indeed, DoD has already crafted a plan to cut $487 billion over the next 10 years. Adding an additional $500 billion in cuts through sequestration would leave America with a hollow force. 

It is important to recognize that the Pentagon has already come to the table with extensive cuts. Meanwhile, some congressmen refuse to budge on simple issues, like slightly raising taxes on the country’s wealthiest earners. America must avoid taking what the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls the “meat axe” approach to our national security — cutting blindly, without carefully weighing the options.

America must tackle its rising debt. Doing it through sequestration, however, would leave the U.S. vulnerable. We need a national conversation — not a meat axe — to preserve America’s national security.

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