Is the Sequester Hurting Our National Defense?

Source:  Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Ash Carter had words with Congress this week regarding the sequester and how he feels it damages national security. This was in conjunction with Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey’s presentation of the budget defense proposal for this year from the Obama administration, which Carter spoke in support of. “The Budget provides the necessary resources to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” states the White House release, “[and] address the ongoing humanitarian crisis int he region, continue efforts to train and equip the Iraqi security forces, support regional partners, and bring stability.” The budget outline also describes monetary aid against Russia for NATO allies, along with an onslaught of other non-military items.

I strongly support the president in requesting a defense budget above the artificial caps of the Budget Control Act — that is, above so-called sequester levels — next year and in the years thereafter,” said Carter, according to a release from the Department of Defense. This comes at a time when international relations are at a key turning point. President Barack Obama has been in talks with Iran over its nuclear program — something that’s been in the news with particular ferocity (because apparently the talks themselves aren’t as important as politics surrounding them) because of a Republican letter sent to Iranian leaders warning that Obama’s decisions wouldn’t be forever.

There has also been a great deal of focus on combating ISIL through continued airstrikes. Even with minimized ground efforts Obama has required more funding for the effort, leading Secretary of State John Kerry to speak before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, asking that those present make certain Obama has “the flexibility” he needs in order to “direct a successful military campaign” without “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” This, and other military demands around the globe, place a great deal of strain on the U.S. military and defense budget, according to Carter.

Carter argues that in order to make sure that troops can effectively protect America, they need to maintain the U.S. military, allowing for technology improvements and progress, and that the sequester has outlived its usefulness.

“Sequester is purely the fallout of political gridlock. Its purpose was to compel prudent compromise on our long-term fiscal challenges — a compromise that never came.” He has a point; the sequester has not been as useful a tool in recent years as it was intended to be. However, its removal likely wouldn’t increase compromise either, nor would it help to make necessary cuts. There is no easy answer there, but justifying defense spending has a few pitfalls politicians may risk.

Carter pits two common Republican goals against each other. National security and military support have always been major key words in patriotic rhetoric from the right. But a balanced budget and a reduced deficit are also very important goals near and dear to the heart of the GOP, and asking that the military be excused from sequester when so many other areas of government deal with cuts is hardly likely to go over well — especially given the last few years’ focus on economic problems at home rather than issues abroad.

In a way, Carter does work to balance these two goals, sympathizing with members of Congress who will have to look to voters. Many Americans are more concerned with the state of the economy, because despite marked improvements, many are still struggling, and this is a challenge Carter notes. He suggests that by funding the Pentagon, the government allows it to reform its defense programs and make them more monetarily restrictive — more bang for your buck, as they say. “The Pentagon can and must do better with getting value for the defense dollar,” said Carter. “Taxpayers have trouble comprehending, let alone supporting, the defense budget, when they hear about cost overruns, insufficient accounting and accountability, needless overhead, excess infrastructure, and the like.” But this can’t be fixed without funds to make reforms happen, he argues.

And while Obama’s budget isn’t in any way likely to be taken up by Congress, it does reduce the budget by $1.232 trillion over the next 10 years, according to Reuters — something that is a more complex problem with Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) proposed tax reform, for example. That said, members of Congress already have plans to work out their own budget proposals, which would also likely reduce America’s spending and will probably have military support built in — so as an argument goes for Obama’s budget, Carter’s is unlikely to be successful. As an argument against the sequester though, he may see more action.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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