Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Defending the defense budget

By Rep. Eric Cantor

A new word has entered this year's political debate - "sequester." This is Washington budget-speak for across-the-board spending cuts.

When these dangerous cuts go into effect Jan. 2, the U.S. will be heading toward its smallest military since before World War II, and Virginia could be left with a hundred thousand fewer jobs.

How did we get here? Last year, Republicans in Congress made clear that President Barack Obama's push to increase the nation's already historic debt could not occur without a commitment to equal reductions in spending over time.

Rather than working to responsibly get our fiscal house in order, Obama demanded that the debt limit be increased by $2.1 trillion so he would not have to ask Congress to raise it again before the election. He made clear this was nonnegotiable.

Leading up to the debt limit deadline, both parties worked together to identify more than $1 trillion in savings, but we were still short of $2.1 trillion. The bicameral, bipartisan "supercommittee" was created to identify the remainder of the cuts. To ensure that the supercommittee did its job, automatic across-the-board cuts would serve as the backstop.

Since both sides agreed these cuts were the worst possible outcome, we assumed everyone would enter into negotiations in good faith. We were wrong.

Obama barely participated in the discussions of the supercommittee. Identifying cuts was made even more difficult by the Senate's failure to even propose, much less pass, a budget. At a time of over 8 percent unemployment, congressional Democrats on the committee pushed for a dollar in tax increases for every dollar in spending cuts. In the end, Democrats insisted on tax hikes, and so the supercommittee failed.

What does this mean for Virginia and the nation?

America's unmatched ability to defend freedom around the world will be severely diminished. Cutting $500 billion from the defense budget will do incredible damage to our military. It will force hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines out of the service, leaving us with the smallest ground force since 1940 and sending brave men and women from the front lines to the unemployment lines.

Sequestration will also harm the National Guard and Reserve component and leave our Navy with the smallest fleet in nearly a century.

It will weaken our ability to prepare for future challenges and invest in advanced missile defenses designed to meet emerging threats from countries like Iran and North Korea, while also hampering ongoing operations in places like Afghanistan, jeopardizing our obligation to support our troops on the battlefield.

These cuts will devastate the economy and threaten nearly a million jobs. A full tenth of the defense budget is spent in Virginia. Federal spending on defense amounts to nearly $60 billion a year - about 14 percent of Virginia's economy. Our state is home to major national security installations that employ tens of thousands of people in Hampton Roads and elsewhere.

Virginia is also the epicenter of the defense industry, with corporate headquarters, manufacturing facilities and a healthy shipbuilding infrastructure in Newport News and Norfolk. Sequestration will cause catastrophic damage to these facilities and their hard-working men and women. The National Association of Manufacturers estimated these defense cuts will cost Virginia 115,000 jobs.

After the supercommittee's failure, the House acted. In May, we passed legislation replacing the first year of mandatory cuts with common sense reforms to underperforming programs and eliminating programs that have outlived their mission.

The president threatened to veto the bill, stating we should adopt the proposals in his budget - the same budget overwhelmingly defeated in both the Republican House and the Democratic Senate. He has put forward no further proposals, and the Democratic majority leader in the Senate has refused to allow for legislation to replace the sequester to come up for a vote.

We are committed to preventing these harmful cuts from doing such damage to our national security and economy. But we can't do it alone. We need a willing partner in the White House and the Senate. We stand ready to work together on behalf of our brave men and women in uniform, the commonwealth and the country.

Eric Cantor, a Republican from Richmond, serves as House majority leader.

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