The sequester spending cuts are scheduled to take effect in a few weeks and politicians are scrambling to find a way to delay or scrap them. Earlier this week, President Obama proposed postponing the cuts again in exchange for a combination of tax hikes and targeting spending reductions. Meanwhile, a group of hawkish Republican legislators led by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) are trying to replace cuts to military spending with savings that would be achieved by reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition.
Let’s try to put their efforts in context. According to new numbers from the Congressional Budget Office, the sequester will reduce spending by $995 billion over the 10 year budget window. While that is a lot of money, it’s but a small percentage of the $47.2 trillion the federal government is projected to spend over that same timeframe. It seems even smaller when you consider that nearly $7 trillion of this spending will be heaped onto our national debt. It should be pretty clear to anyone that even with the sequester, we have an enormous debt and deficit problem.
This is what makes efforts to “offset” the sequester so peculiar. If we’re ever going to approach a balanced budget, the sequester should be viewed as a starting point, not the finish line. Spending reductions offered up by President Obama or these Members of Congress should be considered as additions – not replacements – to the level of sequester cuts. To do otherwise, is to implicitly accept the addition of a jaw-dropping $7 trillion to our national debt over the next 10 years.
At the same time, some including Sen. Inhofe have proposed giving military leaders additional flexibility when making cuts to the Pentagon budget. This is certainly not an ideal solution, since it could open the door to gimmicks and oversight problems. Still, it could allow for more prudent decisions and would be a preferable option to reducing, delaying or eviscerating the sequester.