Our nation and our military are about to confront one of the biggest threats since World War II. It does not come in the form of a shadowy terrorist organization or a well-armed foreign foe. Instead, it is looming in the form of indiscriminate budget cuts that will strike on Jan. 1, 2013.
A process known as “sequestration” will result in an across-the-board cut of almost $500 billion to the U.S. military in the next decade, as well as proportional cuts to the rest of government. This draconian process is the result of inaction by last year’s super committee, which was tasked with reining in our looming deficit or risk triggering these automatic cuts.
America’s leaders have a duty to examine all options to bring our $16 trillion-and-growing debt under control. I am proud to have joined my colleague from across the aisle, Sen. Mark Warner, in leading the bipartisan efforts in the Senate to address this critical issue.
But sequestration — described by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as “a meat ax” — is an inefficient and dangerous approach to reducing federal spending that will wreak long-term damage on our nation’s military.
According to Pentagon and defense-industry leadership, these are some of the effects sequester will have on America’s military and industrial base:
n These mindless and un-strategic cuts could result in an unacceptable risk to our national security;
n Sequester would result in the smallest American ground forces since 1940, the smallest fleet of ships since 1915, and the smallest tactical fighter-force ever in the Air Force;
n It would hinder the readiness and responsiveness of the factories, assembly lines and companies that make our military equipment, and would be difficult and expensive to reverse in an ever-changing threat environment;
n It will result in a loss of talent, loss of knowledge and an erosion of quality in the defense industry.
The shadow of sequestration also threatens America’s defense industrial base at a time when China, Russia and other nations are ramping up their defense industries. As a result, this process could lead to military competitors seeking to translate improvements in their defense industries into strategic advantages.
One reason the United States has not been attacked on our own soil by another nation’s military since 1941 is that other countries are deterred by our military capabilities and our willingness to use them. But this ability to deter — which sequester would weaken — should never be taken for granted.
What are our options? One alternative is a plan I have been working on with several of my colleagues as a way to avoid sequestration while getting America’s finances in order by balancing the budget and reducing spending.
Our bipartisan, comprehensive approach — dubbed by the press as “the Gang of Six” — would combine necessary and significant spending cuts with serious reforms to entitlement programs and an overhaul of our overly complex tax code. We can close tax loopholes, reduce tax rates on Americans and raise revenues by invigorating the economy and putting Americans back to work.
Just as importantly, however, it would preserve our military readiness without enacting gratuitous cuts that put our national security at risk.
In the coming weeks, I will be traveling to military communities in Georgia to talk about the catastrophic affects sequestration will have on our military, our military personnel, and local businesses across Georgia that proudly support our military.
These people are your friends and family, your neighbors and co-workers. All Georgians — not just those associated with the military — need to understand the effects of this defense sequester. With defense-related spending playing a large role in Georgia’s economy, sequester will affect everyone.
I encourage you to get involved, to raise the issue of defense sequester with your local elected officials and within your community. Time is short and the need is great. Only with your help and support can we energize our leaders in Washington to develop a fiscal alternative to avoid the long-term harm sequester will do to our national security.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, is the senior senator from Georgia. He is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; the Senate Rules Committee; the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and serves as the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.