The headlines of every major news station and outlet are once again dominated by confrontation between the White House and Congress. The topic? Sequestration. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Sequestration?
Sequestration is a series of automatic cuts to government agencies, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts would be split 50-50 between domestic and defense discretionary spending. The sequester has been looming for over a year. Congress pushed the date the sequester was to take affect back to March 1st as part of the fiscal cliff deal that came through on New Year’s Day.
Was There a Plan?
Technically, yes. The point of pushing back the sequestration date to March 1st was to form a “super committee” aimed at finding less painful ways to cut spending. The issues started with the standoff over the U.S. debt ceiling in 2011. Republicans in Congress insisted on spending cuts in exchange for giving the Obama administration the room to pay the federal government’s obligations to bondholders. Congress and the administration agreed to more than $2 trillion in spending cuts; $1 trillion was laid out in the debt-ceiling bill and the remainder imposed through sequestration. Currently, President Obama is urging Congress to approve a short-term deal allowing for the cuts to be put off for a time while a long-term deficit reduction plan can be put in place.
What Does This Mean?
More than $500 billion will be cut from the Defense Department and other national security agencies. The rest of the cuts will fall on the domestic side – national parks, federal courts, the FBI, food inspections and housing aid. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that the $46 billion in spending cuts coming in 2013 (if sequestration occurs) would serious endanger military readiness. This would also mean:
- The smallest ground force since before WWII.
- The smallest Navy since before WWI.
- The smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.
- The smallest civilian workforce in the history of the Department of Defense.
Defense Secretary Panetta noted that the reduction of U.S. forces as outlined above will threaten the ability to forward deploy, delay response times to crises and conflicts, threaten overall operational readiness due to reduced force training, and undermine the ability for the U.S. to meet national security objectives. With the U.S. recently committing ground troops and drones to Niger in an effort to support a French counterterrorism mission in Mali and increasing agitation from the government of North Korea surrounding nuclear tests (compounded by an ongoing commitment of troops in the Middle East), can the U.S. truly afford discretionary funding to be cut from defense budgets without determining where the cuts will lessen the blow? Surely logic would determine that cuts from the defense budget of the #1 super power should be carefully considered and not enforced due to the constant failure of bipartisan politics.