In less than a week, indiscriminate spending cuts are due to hit our federal budget. Now, as someone who’s fought for years to cut spending in Washington, this should be a good thing. Unfortunately, given the way the president structured these spending cuts, they will disproportionately hit our armed forces that are at work defending our nation.
These spending cuts — referred to in Washington as the sequester — were included in the Budget Control Act; legislation that I opposed and that the President signed into law in August 2011. It capped discretionary spending and created a new Deficit Reduction Committee — commonly referred to as the SuperCommittee — to find an additional $1.2 trillion in savings. If the Super Committee failed, which it did, then the sequester would kick in.
The sequester, which will hit on March 1, would implement $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts this year, with another $1.1 trillion coming over the next decade. Because of how the sequester was structured, nearly $500 billion of the $1.1 trillion in cuts would come from the military. This $500 billion is on top of a previously-scheduled $500 billion in cuts to our armed forces.
Now let me be very clear: Our national debt is over $16.5 trillion, so we need to cut spending and stop burdening future generations of Americans with debt. But to pay for this debt on the backs of our men and women in uniform as the president’s sequester does is the wrong approach.
Congressional Republicans have been working hard to prevent the sequester from taking effect, and have focused on common sense ideas to more proportionately cut spending across the government. The Republican House of Representatives has even passed two pieces of legislation to stop the sequester. But the Democratic Senate has failed to act and instead has proposed more tax increases on top of the tax hikes the president got earlier this year and all the Obamacare tax hikes that are starting to go into effect. And President Obama? He seems more focused on continuing his campaign, because he’s been completely missing in action on this important issue.
Let’s remember that the president, who is fighting any spending reductions in favor of more tax hikes, dramatically increased federal spending during his first four years in office. First was his failed near $1 trillion stimulus bill and then his $2.6 trillion health law — both of which have pushed the size and scope of the federal government to unprecedented levels. But instead of looking at where there is fat in the government that could be reduced, the president and his allies are saying we’ve already cut too much, when in fact, we haven’t cut much of anything at all. They flatly refuse to even look at entitlement spending, which is the single largest driver of our debt. And they cling to the mistaken notion that we can tax our way out of a black hole of debt and into prosperity.
The president needs to come to the table and work with Republicans on meaningful spending reductions that put our country on a path to economic stability, and ensure that the brave men and women of our military and all those who work with our armed forces — including those at Hill Air Force Base — can do their jobs protecting our nation.
There is a way forward, but Washington needs to get serious about it. That’s one of the reasons I outlined a set of five bipartisan, common sense entitlement reforms Congress and President Obama can act on today that will cut our debt. These are reasonable, rational ideas with bipartisan support, like adjusting the Medicare eligibility age, modernizing the Medigap program, simplifying Medicare beneficiary cost-sharing, implementing competitive bidding in Medicare, and instituting Medicaid per capita caps.
But none of the long-term spending reductions supported by Republicans and many Democrats will go anywhere without President Obama. He needs to get in the game and first work with us to replace the indiscriminate sequester spending cuts with sensible cuts and meaningful entitlement reforms, and second, work with Congress to put our country back on a path to fiscal responsibility.
Hatch is Utah’s senior U.S. senator.