- - Monday, March 4, 2013

Most Americans agree that we should put a stop to runaway spending in our country. How we accomplish this is the big question. Will the arbitrary, nonprioritized cuts of sequestration solve the problem? Probably not. Members of Congress are collectively stuck on partisan issues. The painful effects of sequestration became the genesis of an excuse, a way to blame the other side for this failure in government. In their failure to stop sequestration, enacting yet another continuing resolution as they point fingers across the political aisle, our elected officials have absolved themselves of responsibility.

Back in August 2011, President Obama and Congress came up with this “self-scare” tactic they believed would force them to come up with a plan to reduce the national deficit. This tactic was intended to be so devastating that no person who cared about the security and economic well-being of America would dare let it happen. Unfortunately, they have now let it happen.

What does it mean? It means that the Department of Defense will make indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts without regard to safety or security. It means our sailors, Marines, Coastguardsmen and Merchant Mariners will operate at higher risk, due to lower combat readiness. In other words, we are compromising their safety because of sequestration and continuing resolution budget games.

Our new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, is facing a firestorm during his first week on the job. His former Hill colleagues in Congress have put him in an unenviable position. The fallout of failure has begun, with the U.S. Navy canceling the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg, delaying the midlife maintenance of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and canceling third- and fourth-quarter maintenance availabilities in private yards.

We also could see up to 800,000 civil service workers laid off, workers who will have less money to put back into our already fragile economy. These are but a few of the painful “cost-saving” measures that will have to be taken to meet the terms of sequestration. What kind of message are we sending to our allies —and our adversaries — when our ships are not on station? Are we really saving money by delaying much-needed repairs and upgrades to our ships and aircraft? As Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert recently pointed out, these decisions come at a price — much like putting off an oil change because you can’t afford the $20 service, you save in the short term but shorten the car’s life and add to the backlog and cost of work that must be done later. The decline in maintenance man-hours per flight means the nation will, in the end, pay higher costs to maintain aircraft, and ships and equipment will undergo similar degradation.

Massive deficit-reduction cuts are in the best interest of our country, but they are being applied in the worst possible way. The indiscriminate nature of the sequester cuts was intentional, designed to be so draconian that no one would let them happen. There will be no prioritization. Every program, every discretionary budget line will be cut equally. The brave personnel in uniform who serve this nation have proven time and again that they can do more with less. They know how to execute the national security strategy given to them, they know how to defend and, when called upon, they know how to fight and win wars.

We must give our military leaders the flexibility to manage their budgets, even if those budgets are smaller. If Congress and the president cannot demonstrate the will to pass a budget that would bring us out from under a continuing resolution, then the least they can do for our military is allow them the funding transfer authority needed to manage these cuts as they see fit. The arbitrary cuts will still be devastating to our national defense and put us at increased risk, but at least our defense leaders will have the opportunity to mitigate that risk.

Mr. President and members of Congress, America has spoken. From state and local government to industry, from military personnel to the shopkeepers with whom they do business every day, the message is clear: Your failure to work together, your blame of the other side and your plan to “let the chips fall where they may” is irresponsible. Accepting that we will be less secure and less safe is unsatisfactory. Our national security, our economic well-being and our status as a world leader are at stake. You must act now to keep America safe and secure.

Dale Lumme is the national executive director of the Navy League of the United States and a retired Navy captain.