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Hartzler: Defense Is Our First Obligation

The first responsibility of the United States government is to provide for the common defense — protecting the safety and liberty of American citizens from threats at home and abroad.

Without action by Congress, significant across-the-board cuts to defense will take place in January. It is my opinion, and that of many of my colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee, that these cuts will pose a serious threat to our men and women in uniform and their ability to protect our homeland.

Budget reductions are necessary, but money for our military is unlike all other government spending, as the Constitution makes it clear that the primary obligation of Congress is to defend our country.

Although defense spending represents only 19 percent of the budget, almost half of the deficit reduction measures taken to date have come out of the military — and these cuts have totaled half a trillion dollars. The defense cuts so far have done nothing to resolve our debt crisis and are putting pressure on our armed forces defending our freedoms in far-flung locations throughout the world. This is a wrong-headed approach to controlling America’s budget problems.

America is at a crossroads. Are we ready to see this country’s decline as a national power?

The Armed Services Committee anticipates sequestration cuts will mean 100,000 fewer soldiers and Marines. It is estimated the Navy would likely mothball 60 ships, including two carrier battle groups, while we give up nearly a third of Army maneuver battalions and Air Force fighters, a quarter of our bombers and jeopardize our ability to defend against a nuclear attack. There would also be the elimination of 250 fighter aircraft, higher fees for military health care and cuts to our nuclear weapons arsenal. Hundreds of billions of dollars in additional cuts would force our military to give up on developing new weapons systems while badly needed repairs to existing weapons systems are put on hold.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has calculated that sequestration will further weaken America’s national defense by bringing about the smallest ground force since World War II, the smallest Navy since World War I, the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force and the smallest civilian workforce in the history of the Defense Department. He has said the sequester cuts would “in fact, hollow out the force and inflict severe damage to our national defense.”

The effect goes beyond defending our nation, to harming our fragile economy, costing Americans their jobs. This unacceptable risk would lead to the cancellation of hundreds of thousands of defense contracts currently in place, meaning production plants and jobs across the country would stop. Cuts to spending for the acquisition of military equipment alone would lead to the loss of more than 1 million private-
sector jobs — including 350,000 jobs currently performed by active-duty and DOD civilian personnel.

This is the nightmare we face under sequestration. But it doesn’t have to happen. H.R. 3662, legislation introduced by Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), would prevent a further round of cuts by paying for one year of defense and nondefense sequestration with a reduction in the federal workforce through attrition. This provides $127 billion in savings — more than is required to pay for both defense and nondefense accounts in 2013.

Most importantly, by paying for one year of sequestration now, we can meet the needs of our men and women in uniform and their families as Congress looks elsewhere for budget cuts.

The chairman is not alone in efforts to head off sequestration with viable, common-sense alternatives for reducing spending. The 2013 budget by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) aims to realize savings through a series of reforms that replace across-the-board cuts. Reforms include: stopping fraud by ensuring that individuals are eligible for taxpayer benefits they receive; eliminating government slush funds and stopping bailouts; controlling runaway, unchecked spending; restraining spending on government bureaucracies; and reducing waste and duplicative programs. The Senate needs to act on these needed reforms and pass a budget for the good of America and for our national defense.

As American servicemen and service-
women in hostile locations face enemies and as civilians at home are constantly reminded to be on their guard for terrorist threats, it is imperative we prioritize national defense to properly protect this country.

Solutions to this problem have been put forward. To reject these ideas would subject this country to unnecessary risk. Sequestration is the wrong approach. Providing for the national defense must remain our top priority.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) is a member of the Armed Services Committee.

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