As we honor those who have fought, bled, and made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their nation, we must also keep in mind the soldiers, sailors, and Marines who serve today. Many of them serve in far off lands, but the work they do is invaluable in keeping our nation safe.
The first priority for the federal government is to provide for our nation’s defense. As we enter into a time where fiscal austerity has gained greater importance, we must ensure that we continue to provide our military with the resources to meet our national security needs. While we must ask the military to do more with less, we cannot, and should not, ask them to bear a dramatically disproportionate share of the burden.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening.
Last summer, the debt-limit debate offered our nation a prime opportunity to stop kicking the can down the road and get our fiscal house in order. However, instead of taking concrete actions like passing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, Congress chose to pass the poorly conceived Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. While the legislation contained numerous provisions designed to avoid making tough decisions, it did contain language known as a “sequestration” that will do more damage to our military than any foreign force or terrorist organization.
The sequestration provisions in the Budget Control Act will force across the board cuts in domestic and military spending of $1.2 trillion over 10 years. These cuts begin on Jan. 1, when the Department of Defense will be faced with as much as a 23 percent across the board cut to their budget.
A cut of this magnitude will hollow out the greatest fighting force in the world. At a Senate Armed Services Committee, I asked Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta if the sequester would be tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot. He responded that we would be “shooting ourselves in the head” and that such cuts would “decimate our defense.”
The consequences to our nation’s defense infrastructure, of which South Carolina plays an integral role, would be severe. These deep cuts create increased uncertainty for both our military and defense industrial base, and come at a time when threats to our nation are increasing not declining.
Last November, Senator John McCain and I sent a letter requesting concrete details regarding the impacts of sequestration. Secretary Panetta responded that “rough estimates suggest after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”
And closer to home, South Carolinians’ service to our national defense through military bases and training facilities, defense contractors and other civilian support are substantial. The economic footprint is an estimated $13 billion a year in South Carolina.
South Carolina is home to some of the finest military installations in the country. The Joint Base Charleston community is home to 20,172 employees. Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter supports over 7,317 military and civilian employees and 8,206 family members. Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is slated to receive a squadron of F-35s. But the F-35 program has already faced delays, and with the uncertainty sequestration creates, this program may be in danger. Fort Jackson is the largest and most active Initial Entry Training Center in the U.S. Army, training in excess of 36,000 soldiers each year.
The solution is not to abandon the plan of reducing spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, but to do it in a responsible way that prevents destroying the military. I am proposing that to achieve the same savings, we should look to reduce the federal civilian work force rather than gutting the military. Instead of hiring all three workers that retire, simply hire two, which would require the federal government to be more efficient.
We need to get our fiscal house in order, and I am all for finding responsible savings in the Defense budget. But an arbitrary across-the-board cut, without a thorough look at capability, is both foolish and dangerous.
The writer is a Republican senator from South Carolina.