Brian Darling
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Conservatives in Congress are fighting to undo mandatory cuts to defense spending, slated to bite in January. Called “the Sequester,” these automatic cuts would gut important Pentagon programs, undermining our national security. Even worse, these automatic cuts do not distinguish between wasteful and efficient spending due to their mechanistic nature.

Last year’s debt limit agreement imposed $1.2 trillion in mandatory sequestered cuts, equally divided between defense and domestic programs, over 10 years. Very soon, Senators and Representatives will have to vote for or against retaining these scheduled cuts.

America’s aging arsenal has been depleted and worn down from a decade of hard use. Is now the time to let our force completely hollow out? Can we really afford to cash a “peace dividend” in a world loaded with bad actors like North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Iranian strong man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Our global foes and competitors know that America is scheduled to slash defense spending, and they stand ready to take advantage. Do we need any more evidence of the threats presented to the United States than Russia’s recent promise to preemptively strike and destroy U.S. led NATO missile defense sites in Eastern Europe? This is the type of bullying a nation can expect when it unilaterally weakens itself.

Many in Congress don’t believe in Ronald Reagan’s idea of “Peace through Strength.” Our nation needs to spend roughly 4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense to be able to preserve freedom. President Obama’s budget envisions chopping defense spending down to about 2.5% of GDP by 2022, and this does not account for the sequestration. Yet American liberals seem intent on using cuts to missile defense and other defense infrastructure programs as a means to curry favor with our enemies and to pay for liberal domestic priorities.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is fighting to undo the ill-advised agreement that lead to the debt limit increase. His “Sequester Replacement Act,” H.R. 4966, is being considered this week by the House Budget Committee, in anticipation of full House consideration. After the House passes this legislation, it will take up another bill to replace, among other cuts, the defense cuts with mandatory non-defense cuts over the next decade and discretionary cuts for Fiscal Year 2013.

Clearly, there is waste in the defense budget, yet scheduled cuts will do nothing to get rid of specific instances of waste, fraud and abuse in the Pentagon. In July of 2011, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) put out a plan titled Back in Black with over $1 trillion in defense cuts. Senator Coburn is correct to argue that “the Department of Defense can and must play a role in bringing our budgets into balance.” Many conservatives, me included, don’t agree with all of Coburn’s proposed cuts, but he puts some common sense cuts on the table.

Coburn points out that the federal government could save $9.1 billion over 10 years by consolidating the administration of 252 grocery stores run by the Defense Commissary Agency and retail stores. The Senator also found $10 billion in savings by closing down the Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS). There is no rationale for having military-run schools in the United States.

The problem with the sequester is that the Defense Department will not include Coburn’s ideas for cuts. Sequestration will hurt major modernization programs of the Department of Defense. The Heritage Foundation identified over $200 billion in cuts in the Saving the American Dream plan, but because we have underinvested in modernizing for so long that we need to take any savings and reinvest that money in defense -- not take it off the top line.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), put out a fact sheet arguing that the Sequester would be “catastrophic” and an “unacceptable risk” with “disastrous consequences for soldiers, veterans, national security, and the economy.” Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the HASC Readiness Subcommittee, is looking for ways to protect ships, military vehicles and aircraft from being sequester targets.

Forbes introduced H. Res. 441 arguing that further reductions in core national security funding will harm U.S. interests. The resolution memorializes the fact that decisions on cuts will not be based on “an assessment of the threats” faced, but on “budgetary pressure.” With our military in dire need of modernization, this is not the time for politically motivated cuts.

The Obama Administration and allies in Congress want to use defense programs to bow to foreign powers, pay for bigger domestic spending initiatives and grow government. The left likes increased federal highway spending, expanded government-controlled health care and crony capitalism in the form the propping up the Export-Import Bank more than it likes missile defense, adequate troop levels and updated equipment.

Thankfully there are those in Congress willing to fight force-weakening defense cuts. Allowing the defense sequester to stand would be a huge mistake.

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Brian Darling

Brian Darling is a Senior Fellow in Government Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling