Last year, as the federal government approached a limit on how much it could legally borrow, the Obama administration asked Congress to rubber-stamp an increase in the government’s borrowing authority without any spending cuts to match.
When House Republicans made clear that any increase in the debt limit must be accompanied by an even greater amount of spending reduction, the President insisted that he would not accept a debt-limit deal that did not include large tax increases on American families and businesses.
All of this work was made more difficult by the Senate’s failure to pass any budgets at all in 2010 or 2011. Nevertheless, both parties were eventually able to come together and avoid defaulting on the government’s obligations.
We succeeded in protecting hardworking taxpayers by securing a debt-limit increase that contained zero tax hikes.
Instead, we established caps on spending for government agencies, saving roughly $1 trillion over the next decade.
And we established a Joint Select Committee in Congress tasked with producing at least $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction. This “supercommittee” was backstopped by an automatic, across-the-board spending cut known as a sequester.
This sequester was never intended to be policy. It was meant to be something both parties wished to avoid, in order to motivate members of the supercommittee to work together.
Despite a good-faith effort to avoid the sequester, the supercommittee’s negotiations broke down over fundamental differences in visions for our nation’s future.
In our view, we shouldn’t be taking more from hardworking Americans to fix Washington’s mistakes. Instead, we should be solving the problem with structural reforms to our entitlement programs to make them strong and sustainable.
Leading Democrats have a different view, and the supercommittee was unable to do its work. As a result, the 2013 sequester is scheduled to impose a $109 billion, across-the-board, inflexible, and arbitrary cut in spending on January 2, 2013.
There is strong bipartisan agreement that the sequester is bad policy and should be replaced.
Sequestration would have a crippling effect on our Armed Forces. Although defense spending accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget, half of the deficit reduction efforts to date have come out of defense.
Obama administration officials have testified that sequestration could break the back of a military stretched thin by three years of cuts and ten years of war.
Sequestration would force the greatest Armed Forces in history to its knees, resulting in the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1916, and the smallest Air Force in our history.
We would risk ceding our special role in world affairs to countries such as Russia and China, who are both vastly expanding their military power.
We would risk breaking faith with our all-volunteer military, reneging on sacred promises made to care for the health and well-being of our troops and our veterans.
We would risk the gains made against global terrorism and risk our ability to prevent another September 11th attack.
And we would tacitly accept what our military leadership calls an extraordinary and unacceptable degree of danger in a strategically uncertain and perilous time.
In addition to this threat to our national security, the sequester would also impose deep cuts to programs like the National Institutes of Health and border security, squeezing critical priorities while letting entitlement spending remain on autopilot.
This week, the House is taking action to avoid these dire results by replacing the sequester with common-sense spending reductions that members of both parties should be able to support.
For instance, we propose to stop waste in the food-stamp program by ensuring that individuals are actually eligible for the taxpayer benefits they receive. That shouldn’t be a partisan issue. That’s common sense.
Another issue: We all believe in a strong federal workforce. But federal workers are currently receiving retirement benefits that are far out of line with those received by their private-sector counterparts. Our proposal simply asks federal workers to share more equitably in the cost of their retirement benefits.
The reforms we’re advancing this week will also save billions of taxpayer dollars by prohibiting future bailouts for “too big to fail” institutions. We need to be ending the concept of “too big to fail,” not enshrining it with a permanent bailout fund.
These savings will replace the arbitrary sequester cuts and lay the groundwork for further efforts to avert the spending-driven economic crisis before us.
Unless we act, the sequester will take effect. We do not believe this is in the national interest, and the President claims that he agrees. There is no reason why we cannot work together.
House Republicans are bringing specific proposals to the table. If the Democrats mean what they say, it is time for them to work with us to spare our troops from the consequences of Washington’s failures.
McKeon of California serves as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Ryan of Wisconsin serves as Chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Editor’s note: This op-ed first appeared on the Website www.realclearpolitics.com May 9.