By ROB ANDREWS | For the Star Ledger
Haddon Heights, NJ - America will never be able to fully solve its job crisis until we get our debt and deficit under control. But, without deadlines, things have a tendency not to happen. This is especially true in government unfortunately. However, both parties came together and recognized that getting our fiscal house in order is such an urgent problem that there comes a time when talk needs to stop and action needs to be taken.
That’s why when Congress passed the debt-ceiling deal in August we set a date certain that would trigger across-the-board cuts if a deficit reduction agreement is not reached. That date is this Wednesday, and when the 12-member Supercommittee inevitably finds itself in a stalemate, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts, called “sequesters,” will begin to take effect in 2013.
If deadlock occurs, the Department of Defense stands to face $500 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. While Pentagon officials are aggressively lobbying Capitol Hill to stop the sequester from kicking in, the fact is we cannot achieve fiscal stability unless we significantly reduce defense spending. With that in mind, we can trim even more – upwards of $600 billion over 10 years – by making a few targeted cuts, and it can be done without jeopardizing our national security.
Early this month, I joined Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to urge the Supercommittee to find even more savings in the defense budget. We identified five key areas where further restraints in defense spending could be found. These cuts have been carefully selected to maximize savings, while ensuring that the men and women serving in our Armed Services have the tools needed to succeed in their missions across the globe.
First, we can save hundreds of billions of dollars by ending America’s presence in Iraq and by leaving Afghanistan 18 months earlier than the original December 2014 target.
In Iraq, we accomplished what we set out to do. Because of the bravery of our troops, we drastically reduced the levels of violence plaguing the Iraqi people and helped build the foundation for democratic elections. But upward of 5,000 contractors and countless guards are expected to remain in Iraq to rebuild the country. We cannot afford to invest in Iraq’s infrastructure when our own schools and roads are in disrepair.
In Afghanistan, our mission was to deprive al Qaeda of a safe haven from which it could launch another terrorist attack, and thanks to the men and women of America’s armed forces, we have largely accomplished that goal. We brought the Taliban to its knees, killing Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders.
Now, it is time to bring our troops home so they can return to their families and be honored for their success. We can no longer afford to send $450 million a day to fight missions that have already been completed, especially when America is starving for jobs and fiscal stability.
Second, we can reduce spending by closing unnecessary military bases in Europe and Asia, many of which were built during the Cold War-era to protect America from a global war. Thankfully, America no longer faces this type of threat. We should focus our spending on more foreseeable dangers that actually exist in today’s modern world. There are more than 100,000 troops stationed at these bases and during these difficult economic times it is increasingly difficult to support their operations. We can save hundreds of billions of dollars by sending them home or to places where there’s a more urgent need for their services.
Third, we should stop investing in redundant and unnecessary weapons systems. One example of this is a missile program called MEADS, the Medium Extended Air Defense System, which is currently draining tens of billions of defense dollars just to develop. However, we currently have over 1100 Patriot missile launchers that fill the exact same role, and they’ve been used successfully by America and its allies since 1995. There are other wasteful and obsolete weapons programs just like MEADS that can be terminated immediately and deliver astronomical savings.
Fourth, we need to eliminate wasteful cost overruns resulting from the excessive research and development of military technology. Ensuring that our warfighters have the best possible tools in the field is the utmost priority, but defense contractors need to be held more accountable for their persistent delays and constant low-balling. For example the development of Air Force’s SBIRS satellite – a system designed to warn against incoming missiles – was scheduled for completion 9 years ago. Today, with a price tag of over $10 billion and growing, there’s still no end date in sight. This cannot continue. We need to incentivize contractors to meet their budget and time constraints. By holding them financially responsible for failing to meet expectations, we can eliminate billions of dollars in wasteful spending.
Finally, we can achieve significant savings by reducing the amount of money we spend on military facility maintenance. Over the past 10 years the DoD has closed a number of its installations, both domestically and abroad. As a result, our military bases only cover about three-quarters of the square footage they used to; however, spending for site maintenance has risen by nearly 20%. When you have less property to maintain, services should cost less. This is common sense, and it should make its way into the budget cuts.
At a time when 10 million Americans are without work and countless others are under employed, our country cannot afford to let political deadlock get in the way of reason. These are difficult decisions. We need leaders who will rise to the occasion and make the tough choices to put America back on the course of fiscal stability so we can deliver the jobs that are so desperately needed. Allowing the automatic cuts to occur is a missed opportunity because we can do better. The default defense cuts simply scratch the surface – and that’s no way to get the job done.