posted by BGen Stephen A. Cheney USMC (Ret.) on January 7, 2013 at 7:00 am
After lawmakers and the Obama administration hit the brakes and kept the country from going over the fiscal cliff at the close of 2012, Washington lurches forward with a new two-month deadline in yet another last-ditch attempt to avoid broad federal spending cuts.
We need to steady ourselves, rather than shoot from the hip again. If we just focus on applying more budget Band-Aids to get through the frenzied weeks ahead we will miss an opportunity to right-size our federal spending– starting with national security.
Our military deserves the nation’s full support, which means honestly and fairly preparing it for a fiscal future that reflects reality, not wishful thinking.
Over the last 10 years, we have almost doubled the DOD base budget to well over half a trillion dollars ($297B base in 2001 and is requested $525B in 2013), and that does not included the “overseas contingency operations” spending that pays for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.
At the same time our federal debt has exploded; we now owe over $16 trillion dollars. And with a deficit of over $1 trillion a year, it’s getting worse.
The answers though are not simple. As we have seen from Europe, harsh short-term austerity programs are counter-productive. Not only do they slow economic growth (or create recessionary pressures), they can increase the actual debt and deficits.
We cannot slash and burn today and expect to prosper tomorrow. Nobody is served by panic or cynicism during times of crisis. As noted in our American Competitiveness Report – we need to think in decades, not months, when it comes to economic health.
So what should this mean for the Department of Defense and other related agencies?
Almost everyone agrees that sequestration – effectively cutting 10% from throughout the federal government — is not good.
Over the last few weeks there has been some hash rhetoric on what sequestration would mean. It would not mean mass layoffs, nor would it mean deep cuts in programs. It cuts the actual dollar amount spent, but it cuts blindly – the good, the bad and the ugly. And in doing so we could easily find ourselves in a situation where cutting spending now costs us much more in the future.
We need to reframe the debate and commit to keeping the long-term implications of the quick policy fixes today.
What is most troubling is how such moves are down without real consideration of America’s strategy. What we are really talking about is a long-term vision for America and the instruments it uses to advance its interests.
For many years now, ASP and its Board Members, have argued for a hard look at our national security, and a realistic view on what America should and should not do. This includes how much can we afford to spend on our military, and what alternatives exist or are needed to achieve the same national-security priorities through non-military means.
There are some key steps the Administration and Congress could take straight away: