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Honda: Cut Defense, but Not Like This

House Republicans’ passage of the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act, H.R. 5652, should not come as a surprise, given their inability to craft a balanced and sustainable solution to reduce the deficit.

H.R. 5652 cancels an automatic cut — a sequester — of $55 billion to defense spending for fiscal 2013 and could pave the way for even greater defense expenditures. This latest GOP machination is fiscally irresponsible, deceitful to the public’s trust and does not even remotely guarantee greater security for all Americans.

Originally, the defense cuts were supposed to oblige the super committee to cooperate in finding alternative cuts in the budget, an effort that failed.

There has been considerable resistance from the usual suspects since the super committee’s failure, and back in February, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta boldly stated that he did not believe that sequestration would take place.

Hawks in Congress have actively tried to exclude defense from sequestration ever since. If they are successful, it would allow an unabated rise in the baseline defense budget, which has already grown in real terms for 13 straight years and accounted for an incredible two-thirds of the increase in discretionary federal spending in the past decade.

The Pentagon would have us believe that it has tried its best to adjust its strategy to achieve greater savings, but the Pentagon’s proposal to cut its base budget for 2013-2017 by $260 billion is, at best, modest.

On this, the Project on Defense Alternatives estimates a reduction of a dismissible 4 percent in real terms from spending levels in 2008-2012. These figures are brought into further context upon consideration of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s finding that America’s current defense spending is bigger than the next 17 countries combined, including China, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy and others.

There is no question that sequestration’s indiscriminate across-the-board cuts, which lack a coherent strategy for defense, could result in a hollowed-out U.S. military. This does not, however, mean that we can allow defense spending to remain untouched at its current levels.

Keeping defense spending high is not the answer. We must understand that war hawks are trying to make the decision for us to increase military spending on costly and wasteful programs we most likely will not need at the expense of spending to preserve the environment, health care and education.

With the war in Iraq over and the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, we need a leaner, more agile force to combat 21st-century risks. By employing strategies designed for today’s enemies, we can maintain smaller, but still unparalleled, armed forces. Today, our military needs to adapt to current threats and challenges, particularly on nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The threat of terrorist attacks could be effectively dealt with through cost-
effective deployment of intelligence and special operations, while eliminating failed strategies.

Such a strategy would require a smaller force structure with fewer personnel, which can be achieved through attrition. Importantly, savings are not obtained by reducing military personnel wages or benefits, including TRICARE and pensions. The proportion of private contractor personnel would be significantly reduced, curbing needless “outsourcing” that creates excessive cost overruns. The contraction in force structure would also reduce expensive modernization requirements, which are ill-suited to handle current threats. Further savings could be achieved by placing limits to the modernization of Cold War-era nuclear weapons, and infrastructure must be conducted in line with the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act.

This is why Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and I have been working on authoring a Congressional Progressive Caucus blueprint for national security policy, which balances comprehensive policies for strategic defense reform, diplomacy and development strategies, and measures to increase economic strength and security through increased investment in America’s foundations, as well as stabilizing the climate.

Most importantly, the blueprint will provide savings in line with sequestration, although importantly, it will propose budget allocations flow from strategic considerations, not the reverse.

We know that sequestration is not the answer to our budget deficit problem, but this does not mean that our budget problems can be swept under the rug and forgotten.

The defense budget and unnecessary wars played one of the biggest roles in creating the deficit, and it must play an equally important role in reducing it. The key is to do so in a strategic manner and bear in mind the current threats we face and the best ways to defeat those threats.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is a member of the Appropriations and Budget committees, chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Budget Task Force and co-chairman of the caucus’ Peace and Security Task Force.

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