Washington, D.C., is not known as a beacon of honesty and candor. So it’s almost shocking to see the House pass a budget bill as thoroughly straightforward and grounded in reality as the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act.
Just like the budget resolution passed by House Republicans in March, this budget measure does not deny the severity of our debt problem and does not pretend that there are quick, easy fixes. It is impossible to reduce our $16 trillion debt unless every aspect of the federal budget is on the table -- from social programs to defense to entitlement spending.
Critics of the legislation argue that Congress can effectively reduce the deficit by cutting defense spending while leaving funding for social programs virtually untouched. Even a cursory examination of the numbers demonstrates this is blatantly untrue. Out of $46 trillion in total federal spending projected for 2013 to 2021, defense spending accounts for $5.3 trillion -- compared to $11.3 trillion for domestic discretionary spending and a staggering $26.1 trillion for entitlement programs. Frankly, if we cut defense spending to zero, we would still be in debt. Likewise, relying on spending cuts to social programs would barely make a dent in the deficit.
The Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act is a balanced, responsible alternative to automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as “sequester” that are set to take place in January 2013. There is a good reason the sequester was designed as a last resort, only to be implemented if the bipartisan “Supercommittee” failed to agree on a set of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts in conjunction with last summer’s debt limit agreement. The sequester would place a disproportionate burden on defense spending and implement arbitrary cuts to vital domestic programs. Under sequester, military spending would absorb 43 percent of the budget cuts despite representing just 24 percent of the budget. Entitlement spending, on the other hand, makes up 39 percent of all federal spending but would sustain just 15 percent of the sequester cuts.
The defense budget should be scrutinized for wasteful spending just like every other part of the budget. However, the sequester cuts would have a devastating effect. If the sequester proceeds, our Army will be reduced to its smallest size since 1940. We’ll have the smallest Navy since 1916, and the smallest Air Force in American history.
Unlike military spending, which declined steadily throughout the 1990s and remains at historically low levels, spending for domestic programs has exploded. Since 2002, funding for energy conservation programs has grown 975 percent. Spending on food stamps has jumped by 267 percent. With statistics like that, can anyone honestly say that there is no wasteful spending in these programs? Making gradual, targeted reductions is vastly preferable to the extreme cuts heading our way if we delay action.
The federal government is on the path to bankruptcy because, for too long, politicians have taken the easy course of ever-increasing spending. Now there are no easy choices left. Anyone who claims otherwise is not being honest with the American people. Like House Republicans’ previous budget proposals, the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act is a reasonable plan and a significant step forward in the struggle to restore fiscal discipline.