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Forced budget cuts a disaster for military

By Howard McKeon and James Inhofe, Special to CNN
February 20, 2013 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican legislators: President Obama said forced budget cuts wouldn't happen
  • They say we are now little more than a week away from such cuts
  • The military, which already has been cut, will be dealt a harsh blow, they say
  • Legislators: Obama should negotiate on cutting mandatory domestic spending

Editor's note: Rep. Howard McKeon, a Republican from California, is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma is the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(CNN) -- During the third and final presidential debate last October, President Obama made a promise to the American people. Sequestration, a package of forced budget cuts, "is not something I proposed," he said. "It will not happen."

What a difference 100 days make.

The military, fatigued after a decade of war, has already endured three rounds of budget cuts during the president's first term alone. It now finds itself little more than a week away from another $500 billion in budget cuts under sequestration, an outcome that would have a profound and lasting impact on the readiness and capabilities of our military for years to come.

Rather than exhibit the leadership required from our commander in chief, the president has been missing in action. With just weeks to spare, the president has belatedly come forward with a proposal based on higher tax revenues and cuts in defense and discretionary domestic spending.

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Last week's offer from Senate Democrats holds fast to the president's preferred model and proposes a significant tax increase while asking our military to cut tens of billions more. Despite claims to the contrary, this approach is neither responsible nor balanced and should be deeply troubling to the voters who took Obama at his word during the campaign.

Let's be clear: Defense spending is not what's driving our indefensible national debt. We spend less than 18% of our budget on the military, while mandatory domestic spending accounts for 60%. Despite this fact, the president has refused to consider reforms to mandatory spending -- the real driver of our debt crisis -- while using our troops as a piggy bank to keep unsustainable spending programs on life support.

Borger: President can't kick his legacy down the road

There is a growing concern that the president will not seriously negotiate with Congress on a compromise to sequestration until after it takes place on March 1 and each member of Congress hears of the pain affecting his or her constituents. But the real pain will be felt by the men and women serving our country, who will see arbitrary cuts to the resources they so desperately need. They will be asked immediately to do more with less and accept greater risk in a world that is becoming more dangerous by the day. This is an unconscionable position and a dereliction of duty.

Obama: Avoid crisis, pass small cuts

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently stated, "If sequester happens, it is going to badly damage the readiness of the United States of America. We have the most powerful military force on the face of the earth right now. It is important in terms of providing stability and peace in the world. If sequester goes into effect, and we have to do the kind of cuts that will go right at readiness, right at maintenance, right at training, we are going to weaken the United States. And make it much more difficult for us to respond to the crises in the world."

Gen. Martin Dempsey went further in recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and stated that sequestration would put our military on a path where the "force is so degraded and so unready" that it would be "immoral to use the force."

Two weeks ago, the Defense Department announced its decision to indefinitely delay the deployment of the Truman carrier strike group to the Middle East, denying our combatant commander in the most volatile region of the world the capabilities he urgently requires.

The Air Force estimates that if the cuts go into effect, two-thirds of its aircrews will not receive the training hours needed to stay mission-capable. The Army says that an astounding 80% of its combat brigades will be forced to skip necessary training. And nearly a quarter of a million troops could be forced out of the service as the result of layoffs.

Such precarious times should spur meaningful action from the president. Yet every indication we've seen, including his lecturing at the State of the Union address, suggests that his White House is more interested in disavowing responsibility and blaming others.

While the president sits idly by, we have worked tirelessly to spare our military from these devastating cuts. The House voted twice for a proposal sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan that would replace sequestration with reforms to mandatory spending programs and voted four other times in support of finding a solution to sequestration or forcing the White House to be transparent in how it would implement the cuts.

Members of the Senate -- including most recently Sens. Kelly Ayotte, John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- have repeatedly put forth reasonable and common-sense proposals to the same end.

We have pleaded with the president to, at the very least, accept our proposals as a starting point for a meaningful compromise agreement. We have held multiple hearings and passed the Sequestration Transparency Act so that Congress, the president, and every American would fully understand the truly shocking consequences of sequestration.

Though the hour is late, we remain hopeful that this president will set aside political posturing and finally get serious about working with Congress to find a lasting solution to sequestration. The men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

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