“The entire sequester, hitting defense and non-defense, was bad policy when lawmakers passed it, it was bad policy when they let it begin, and it remains bad policy,” the Washington Post correctly points out in its recent editorial.
Sequestration includes a $500 billion cut to the Pentagon’s budget between now and fiscal year (FY) 2021. Though it hasn’t had significant economic impact, it will negatively affect combat readiness of U.S. forces. Even worse, it comes on the top of almost a trillion dollars of defense cuts since President Obama came into office. At such low budget levels, the nation will not be able to meet its national security commitments.
The Department of Defense’s recent Strategic Choices and Management Review does not propose any real choices that would preserve necessary U.S. military capabilities. Intended to provide the Pentagon with a blueprint for implementing defense budget reductions, the document is a budget-driven exercise devoid of any strategic planning. Worse, even if the services could fully adopt the Administration’s “choices” for savings, they would not be able to dramatically reduce readiness and cut capabilities.
While defense is only around 20 percent of the government’s spending, it bears more than 40 percent of the sequestration cuts. Entitlements, especially Social Security and Medicare, are driving our deficit and debt crisis, yet the Senate and President Obama haven’t put forward a credible plan for reforming either. The Post reminds readers that “Obama ultimately can’t act as though the Defense Department’s sequester cuts are equivalent in consequence to every other item in the budget. The country’s defense is a core responsibility of the federal government, and its armed forces are critical to the nation’s ability to exert leadership, maintain alliances, defend human rights and preserve the nation’s safety.”
The Department of Defense could be more efficient. It could save hundreds of billions of dollars annually if it changed its outdated acquisition, health care, and retirement programs. Congressional and presidential leadership is essential to implement these efforts and put the Pentagon on a balanced path. But the resources the Pentagon can save from these reforms should be reinvested to modernize its aging platforms and equipment. A decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan left the military with atrophied equipment. The U.S. air fleet is the oldest it’s ever been in the history of the Air Force. The Navy faces a readiness crisis even without sequestration, as U.S. adversaries advance and modernize their own capabilities.
The world didn’t get any safer since President Obama took office. Imposing sequestration on an already strained military is a bad policy with even worse consequences.