President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats in the Senate are holding American national security hostage. Their demand? Tax the rich! – Or else this nasty Republican-made sequestration thing will doom the economy and disarm the country—and at a most perilous moment, indeed.
As the world burns around us and the campaign conversation shifts inexorably to matters of foreign policy, the American people are going to hear a lot about the latest boogeyman haunting Capitol Hill: sequestration. But from whence and why did it come to this?
Last August President Obama’s Super Committee began debt ceiling negotiations by establishing a mutually disagreeable “or else:” the unanimously unwanted consequence that would only come about in the case of inaction; the Budget Control Act of 2011. The act will impose automatic spending caps – i.e., sequesters – for security and non-security, non-entitlement federal spending.
For Democrats, this meant $500 billion in cuts to certain favorite domestic programs (not including Medicare, Medicaid, TANF or government worker pensions), while Republicans, for their part, would face a slightly larger cut to their beloved Defense Department’s budget. Both sides agreed at the time and agree still today that sequestration was never meant as policy, but was instead established as a way to motivate the Super Committee to compromise. But because the president and lawmakers were ultimately unable to agree, the scenario so terrible that everyone believed it would compel Obama and his Super Committee to act has become law; the automatic spending restraints enacted by the BCA will take effect at the start of next year.
So why can’t conservative spendthrifts rejoice at the prospect of cutting $100 billion in federal spending for next year, and more than $1 trillion over the next decade? For starters, sequestration is an absurdly unserious approach to resolving our unprecedented $16 trillion in national debt; secondly, the manner in which sequestration’s cuts will occur is likely to have devastating consequences for both the U.S. economy and the common defense.
Under current law, sixty percent of federal spending is exempt from sequestration. The exempted programs – Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, lawmaker salaries and government worker pensions, to name a few – are considered “mandatory” spending; however, these programs are also the greatest drivers of our national debt. Accelerated growth in these programs over the past 30 years explains more than anything how the national debt grew to its present proportions. While liberals chide Republicans for the cost of George W. Bush’s War on Terror, Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, is by far the most expensive and least successful American war. Put simply, any Super Committee that ignores the real drivers of our national debt when formulating an end-all-be-all super-duper debt deal is either blind to budgetary realities or unwilling to seriously address federal government’s addiction to entitlements and spending.
Our spending problem is an entitlement problem, yet Mr. Obama continues to insist that it is an inefficiency problem at the Defense Department. He seems to believe—despite input from top defense officials—that the Pentagon is so rife with duplicity and inefficiency that the agency can bear more than half of the spending cuts mandated by his sequestration. Perhaps the DoD could trim some fat, but Mr. Obama’s stubborn refusal to consider serious entitlement reform destroys the credibility of his alleged efficiency-seeking. But then again, he doesn’t want DoD cuts; he wants taxes, and the defense budget is just a bargaining chip.
As for the impact of sequestration to our economy and security, there appears to be broad, bipartisan consensus as to the hazard such cuts present. Mr. Obama’s Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called sequestration “catastrophic,” and has said that the defense portion alone could up the jobless rate by a full percentage point—a loss of 1.53 million jobs nationally. Moreover, a study by economists at George Mason University predicted that sequestration would decrease 2013 GDP growth by 25% from 2.3% to just 1.7% — a recession by any measure; and the CBO’s latest forecasts agree. Whatever the metric, the defense portion of sequestration is bad for the economy, and, unfortunately, due to the long-term nature of defense contracting, the economic pain of a hollow equipment procurement budget is already being felt. (Just ask Tim Kaine!)
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said, “Sequestration would pose unacceptable risk.” Defense Department officials have said that the budget cuts will limit U.S. ability to respond to contingency situations in the near term (such as, oh, say, a mass Islamic uprising in the Middle East and Africa), while eroding our defensive capacity over the longer term. The ultimate consequences of sequestration for the U.S. will be the loss of pre-eminence on the seas and in the skies – a realignment of global power that will only become more stable as military equipment ages, weapons systems become outdated and U.S. industrial capacity atrophies.
Under current budget restraint policies, every branch of the military would be forced to implement similar cost cutting measures with little regard for the national security implications. The U.S. naval fleet would be cut to just 230 ships, according to Congressional testimony and public statements from Navy leadership, who say the fleet is already now operating at an unsustainable level. As we draw down our Navy, China continues to improve the quantity and quality of its fleet; by 2020 the PRC will have 75 submarines, while our Pacific submarine force will number less than half that, at 32. Meanwhile, the PRC is developing sophisticated anti-carrier ballistic missiles, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is advancing headlong, and Akula-class Russian attack submarines are lurking undetected in the Gulf of Mexico.
The good news for those concerned with America’s future, economically and militarily, is that both Republicans and Democrats agree that sequestration is poor policy. The bad news is that neither agrees on how best to avoid the mad hazard sequestration entails.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said the sequester “ought to be viewed as an unacceptable alternative to inaction on the part of Congress.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has called the defense cuts a “penny wise” but a “pound foolish.” And Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), perhaps feeling the heat of his tightening reelection race in a state with a vast defense industry, has said sequestration will disproportionately harm the economy of Virginia. But although Democrats of all walks have expressed disgust with sequestration, not one has introduced legislation to address the problem.
Republicans, for their part, have introduced measures to modify and avert the worst of sequestration. The Down Payment to Protect National Security Act (H.R.3662) is legislation introduced by Armed Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon. The Senate companion (S. 2065) introduced by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), like the House version, that pays for one full year of sequestration and avoids draconian defense cuts. The third Republican-led effort to address sequestration is the House-passed Budget Resolution which would use the process of reconciliation in order to change current mandatory spending categories.
While Democrats in the Senate and the White House have criticized all three solutions proposed by Republicans, there is still agreement that sequestration is a problem. It seems though that only one party has made serious attempts to discover a solution. Given their outright rejection of Republican proposals, one would presume that Congressional Democrats have their own plan. But what is that plan? Judging by the rhetoric emanating from Mr. Obama and his allies, the Left’s plan is to hold America’s national security hostage until Congress acquiesces to the Dear Leader’s demand for more and more taxes.
Sen. Patty Murray recently told an audience at the Brookings Institution that she was comfortable letting the nation careen off the so-called fiscal cliff if Republicans did not agree to tax increases for the wealthy. “If we can’t get a good deal, a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share, then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013,” Murray said over the summer. When Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) asked Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, “Do you believe it was reasonable to use a draconian method such as sequestration to force Congress to do anything,” the Obama Administration official responded, “There are five months remaining for Congress to act. What is holding us up right now is the Republican refusal to have the top 2 percent pay their fair share.”
For those paying attention, the Democratic strategy is abundantly clear: use the threat of disarming America to compel Republicans and conservatives to help the Obama administration “raise revenues.”
“Raising revenue” is Democratspeak for hiking taxes on the productive class, and the oft-invoked phrase is part of the disinformation that began flowing from the White House the moment Obama’s Super Committee failed. But contrary to the liberal narrative, it was not Republicans unwillingness to compromise but Obama’s personal intransigence that turned the much-ballyhooed Super Committee into a byword and an object of ridicule. And since his bright idea to fix the debt became a debacle, the president has virulently rebuked Republican attempts to undo the ill wisdom at the heart of sequestration.
The series of events make clear that the greatest deficit America is suffering from is lack of executive leadership.
The liberal yearning to raise taxes derives from an ideological belief that human society flourishes when the great are made low and the poor made comfortably dependent. They see higher taxes not as a burden to the taxpayer, but as a blessing to government, its dependents, and its allies.
Sequestration presents the most formidable challenge to friends of liberty and believers in American greatness.