Smith's oped in Real Clear Defense:
Political dysfunction has paralyzed Congress. The gridlock became so bad that, in its desperation to avoid a default on the national debt, Congress decided to hold hostage vital federal spending, including funding for our national defense and our long-term economic wellbeing, to spur compromise on a deficit deal. The gambit failed, and we are now suffering the consequence that was never supposed to materialize - implementation of the so called sequester, which is inflicting unnecessary harm on national security and the economy.
Under sequestration, automatic, indiscriminate cuts are being applied, through fiscal year 2021, to a wide variety of programs to achieve $1.2 trillion in savings, forestalling the sound planning needed for meaningful investments in national security, the workforce, transportation, infrastructure, education, health care, public safety, housing, innovation, small business development, and many other facets of enduring national strength. We cannot afford to sacrifice wholly any of these vital interests when budgeting for our future.
Sequestration's indiscriminate cuts are already having a negative impact on military readiness and vital support programs. The services have begun canceling ship and aircraft maintenance and curtailing training for units that are not scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. These forced measures could undermine current operations and put our nation at greater risk should we have to respond to another contingency, raising the possibility that our troops would be less well trained and equipped - and therefore putting them in greater danger.
Most Department of Defense agencies have instituted a hiring freeze, which disproportionally affects veterans, who make up 44 percent of the Department's civilian workforce. Many federal civilian workers will also be furloughed, which will undermine national security by reducing productivity. The civilian workforce plays a vital role in providing national security. Department of Defense civilians staff hospitals, repair ships, aircraft, and tanks, maintain sophisticated systems and equipment, and perform a variety of other crucial missions. The Army, the Air Force, and the Marines have also announced that they will have to suspend tuition assistance programs for active duty service personnel. These are just a few of the negative consequences affecting people. The harmful effects of sequestration are far more numerous and widespread, and they will only get worse over time.
Sequestration was designed as a forcing mechanism for an agreement on a balanced, deficit-reduction plan. Clearly, it has failed to produce the intended results. We can no longer rely on this devastating mechanism to compel action. Threatening the economy by torturing the discretionary budget to impart greater fiscal discipline is no way to govern. That is why I voted against the Budget Control Act and why I have introduced a bill, the Sequestration Relief Act of 2013, to eliminate sequestration, to establish a reasonable long-term discretionary spending plan, and to dispel some of the uncertainty that is hurting our economy and the entire federal government.
My bill would remove the threat of the mindless sequester and remove the Budget Control Act's requirement to produce $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. The bill would also produce $320 billion in spending reductions by incrementally reducing discretionary spending caps over eight years. Of that $320 billion, $167 billion would be drawn from the defense budget, and the remaining $153 billion would come from non-defense discretionary spending. Additionally, the bill would suspend the debt limit until February 1, 2017.
By making these cuts, my bill acknowledges that savings should be found in discretionary spending, but makes those cuts in a reasonable way through the normal appropriation process, at one-third of current sequestration levels, and avoids the mindless approach that is currently wreaking havoc across the federal government.
I do not deny that we need to make changes to mandatory spending programs and increase revenues to reduce the deficit. We absolutely do. My plan would ensure that discretionary spending accounts, and the economy, are no longer held hostage, while Congress deliberates the specific elements necessary for a balanced and comprehensive solution.
We confront a complex fiscal dilemma that must be addressed, but we should not inflict avoidable harm on our economy, undermine national security, or punish hard-working Americans as we work toward a broad and balanced deal to reduce the federal deficit.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) is the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee.
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