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Senate must pass sequestration transparency

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July 24, 2012

Our country is headed for a fiscal cliff. We’re also headed for a national security crisis thanks to one large component of this fiscal cliff — the $1.2 trillion automatic budget sequestration due to go into effect Jan. 2, which would disproportionately cut funding for our defense needs.

The sequestration process was passed last August as part of the Budget Control Act, a last-resort measure to avert a fiscal crisis due in part to the Senate’s failure to pass a budget. Though defense spending makes up less than 20 percent of our budget, 50 percent of the cuts required under the act fall on programs and personnel charged with providing for our nation’s defense.

Even worse, these enormous defense cuts would come on top of a $487-billion cut in defense spending put in place last year. Defense will be cut by nearly a trillion dollars over the next 10 years.

The Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has stated that the sequestration cuts “would do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect the country.” The assistant commandant of the Marine Corps has testified that this would leave the corps without “adequate capabilities and capacities to meet a single major contingency operation,” while the chief of naval operations has testified that it would cause “irreversible damage.”

Despite this looming crisis, President Barack Obama and his administration have so far refused to level with the American people about the full impact of these defense cuts — though the cuts are due to take place in slightly more than five months. The White House has given conflicting reports on how the cuts will be implemented, and Congress’ requests for a clear outline of the administration’s plans are unanswered.

Sequestration will have far-reaching effects on the lives of all Americans. As Panetta and our military leaders have made clear, U.S. national security is at risk if another round of draconian defense cuts is carried out. The president and his administration must understand this. So why would they not want to be transparent about the size and scope of the required cuts?

The House passed our Sequestration Transparency Act last week by a nearly unanimous vote of 414 to 2. This bill would require the Obama administration to submit to Congress and the American people a detailed plan as to how sequestration will be applied to defense and non-defense programs within the federal budget. Members of Congress from both parties agree that this information is essential.

The bipartisan support for our bill in the House should pave the way for a similarly strong show of support in the Senate, which recently agreed to a similar sequestration report requirement as part of the farm bill.

Had the Senate passed a budget in recent years, or had Obama submitted a responsible budget to Congress, we might not be facing these devastating cuts to our nation’s military. Sequestration was intended to be an action-forcing mechanism to get Congress and the president to act to bring the debt under control. It was never the preferred option for achieving more responsible federal spending.

Unfortunately, the supercommittee failed to reach an agreement on spending — and now we are left with the unbalanced and dangerous defense cuts under the Budget Control Act’s automatic sequester.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the Senate should immediately join the House in calling on the president to enter the discussion; release a plan detailing the effects of sequestration, and begin a debate with Congress on the need to replace this sequester with deficit reduction through sensible reforms — not arbitrary cuts.

Our nation’s security is at stake. The time to act is now.

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) are the lead sponsors of the Sequestration Transparency Act in the Senate. Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are the lead sponsors of the bill in the House. Thune and Hensarling serve as chairmen of the Senate and House Republican Conferences respectively. Sessions and Ryan serve as the ranking member and the chairman on the Senate and House Budget Committees respectively.