The impending death of sequestration

After a half-decade of flatlined budgets, continuing resolutions and bipartisan neglect, our nation’s military is finally getting the boost it deserves. Moreover, the budget agreement proposed in February slays – for the time being, at least – one of the worst policies to ever come from Washington: sequestration.

The American Legion has supported a strong national defense since our organization was founded in 1919. Wartime veterans understand the futility of fighting “on the cheap,” and the direct effect that training and weapons have on battlefield success.

While the United States is a peace-loving nation, too many other countries are not. The conflicts of the 20th century show that a strong U.S. military is sometimes all that stands between freedom and tyranny.

Seven hundred billion dollars can buy a lot of bullets, but the projected budget increases over the next two years will do far more than that. Troops will be able to count on better pay, more aircraft, more training, more ships and upgrades to our nuclear weapons arsenal. U.S. missile defense will get a needed boost at a time when North Korea has shown little inclination to disarm and skeptics question Iran’s commitment to halting its nuclear-weapons development.

Back to sequestration, though. It isn’t dead, but at least it’s on life support. These spending caps, mandated by the Budget Control Act, have been severely criticized by every secretary of defense since 2011. Current DoD Secretary James Mattis is no exception.

“I cannot overstate the negative impact to our troops’ and families’ morale from all this budget uncertainty,” Mattis said just hours before Congress approved the budget increase in February.

This is consistent with what the Legion has heard from U.S. military officials worldwide over the past several years. In 2016, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea was particularly frustrated about the process. “We don’t have a predictable fiscal base to make decisions,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks told a delegation of visiting Legionnaires. “It becomes bad business. It increases our inefficiency. Nobody would run a company this way, yet the U.S. military is being caused to run in the most inefficient way possible. We have continuing resolutions every year that cause us to operate this year with last year’s requirements, which were also run by continuing resolution. Right now we are operating off a foundation from 2012. The world is not the same as it was in 2012.”

In addition to responding to unprecedented natural disasters, U.S. troops remain actively engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq and a number of other dangerous places. Reservists and Guard members are frequently deployed and asked to fill billets previously manned by active-duty servicemembers. Delegates at the Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev., last summer unanimously passed a resolution urging Congress to increase military spending and reverse the effects of sequestration.

Maintaining a high-quality all-volunteer force is expensive. Personnel costs are not just incentives to attract talented professionals, but also a measure of a grateful nation. We keep asking our military to do more. It’s time we stop asking them to do it with less.