Congress and President Barack Obama avoided a catastrophic default on U.S. debt a few years ago by striking a deal called “sequestration.” It was one of worst ideas to come out of Washington in a while. Catastrophe was not so much avoided as substituted for a slow-rolling disaster that’s still reverberating across the nation.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans were thrilled with the original sequestration deal. It threatened painful cuts to both parties’ priorities. The GOP would lose some military spending; Democrats would lose some domestic spending. The thought was that the threat of cuts would be an incentive to compromise.
By now we all know the rest of the story. Gridlock prevailed, and the cuts went into effect.
As Obama said when he proposed his most recent budget, the arbitrary cap imposed by sequestration “doesn't differentiate between smart government spending and dumb government spending.”
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In Missouri, one of the impacts is the Army’s plan to cut 774 positions from Fort Leonard Wood. Arbitrary budget caps necessitated by sequestration will force the Army to trim its active duty force to 420,000 over the next couple of years.
Fort Leonard Wood’s loss, about 14 percent of the base’s current uniformed complement, will hurt the Springfield regional economy, with broader effects felt statewide.
Missouri should not expect to be immune to defense budget cuts. Other states that are more dependent on Pentagon spending will take a larger hit. Two bases in Texas and Georgia will lose more than 3,000 soldiers each.
The cuts aren’t the scandal now; an attempt by congressional Republicans to violate the sequestration agreement by piling an additional $38 billion into the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund is.
It’s not even a good plan for the military. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri noted that it does not help the Pentagon very much anyway. The military cannot use the money to maintain force structure, so cuts will remain necessary.
Obama also opposes the slush-fund approach and has threatened to veto the GOP’s defense appropriation bill if it includes the extra billions funneled into the contingency fund.
He wants to lift the sequestration caps on both military and domestic spending. His proposed defense budget is the same amount as the GOP proposal, but it shifts $38 billion from the war fund to the regular budget.
That would enable the Pentagon to spend the money more wisely and on long-term priorities.
Lifting non-defense spending caps is also important to America’s security. The president convincingly argues that spending on research, education and other domestic priorities also matter. “We shortchange those, and we’re going to be less secure,” he said.
The troop cuts at Fort Leonard Wood are not going into effect because the Pentagon determined the troops are not needed, but because D.C. politicians failed to do their job.
It is time for those politicians to rectify the situation with responsible budgeting, not with an attempt to cheat on a deal no one liked.