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Op-Ed: Rep. Cook: Sequestration is damaging military readiness

Lt. Nicholas O'Neill, from Carson City, Nev., signals for the launch of an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27 from the flight deck of the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier and flagship of Carrier Strike Group Five, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)
November 21, 2017

In 2011, as the United States was removing the last of its troops from Iraq, few people in the West had ever heard of ISIS, North Korea didn’t have advanced nuclear or missile technology, Putin wasn’t the president of Russia, and former President Barack Obama signed the Budget Control Act (BCA) into law.

This law, often referred to by its enforcement mechanism “sequestration,” set the yearly defense spending caps for the next 10 years based more on budget than on strategic and military necessity. As a result, the 2018 defense spending top line is influenced more by domestic spending caps than by very real and credible threats: a nuclearized North Korea, the expansionist threat from Russia, the growing strength of China, or the persistent global threat of terrorism. While we must always be careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, disregarding global realities in favor of budgetary purity has left us vulnerable and less secure. The security, prosperity and military might of the United States was not built on this flawed philosophy, and we must work to end the BCA for military budgeting as soon as possible.

The damage of the BCA is most evident in military readiness. Military “readiness” measures our service members’ abilities to operate at levels sufficient to counteract our enemy with the least risk to American lives. Since the BCA was enacted, military funding has remained at 2011 designated levels, with minor adjustments, while commitments around the world continued to increase, causing funding for training to be moved to other operational needs and subsequently leaving our service members undertrained. To date, the consequences have been most visible with high-profile accidents like ship collisions and aircraft accidents, but a large-scale conflict would reveal what many military leaders know: our low state of readiness will lead to lives lost unnecessarily and, potentially, catastrophe.  

To put the shortfall in perspective, look at the defense budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. The President asked for an increase in the defense budget to cover current military requirements, to invest in modernization to keep up with Russia and China, and to begin rebuilding our armed services’ readiness to fight if necessary. After multiple briefings from the Armed Services and military experts, Congress agreed with a need to return readiness to acceptable levels, so we authorized a budget of $634 billion. If the current $549 billion BCA cap for FY 2018 isn’t raised, we will be underfunding the military by $85 billion dollars. Since we cannot take funding away from current operations with troops in harm’s way, a large portion of that money will be taken from training, which will truly break our countries readiness.  

After years of watching military readiness decline under the BCA, we need to repeal this cheap and shortsighted political device before it has irreversible effects on our service men and women. Another option could be to keep the BCA but raise the funding caps, which could help stave off immediate disaster – though it would retain the flawed overall approach. Regardless, we are quickly approaching a deadline to fund our military at levels that our brave young women and men deserve, and our national security requires. We cannot in good conscience allow the BCA level for FY 2018 to jeopardize either.

Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.

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