Eliana noted below how outgoing secretary of defense Leon Panetta took time in his testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee to warn legislators about the damaging effects of impending sequestration on the military. And he’s been on a tear lately, bringing up the issue about as often as possible. He delivered a speech yesterday at Georgetown University in which he also brought up the issue, despite the speech ostensibly being a discussion on “leadership.” He introduced the budgetary issue with one particularly vivid image:
For those of you that have ever seen Blazing Saddles, it is the scene of the Sheriff putting the gun to his head in order to try to establish law and order. That’s sequestration. For more than a year and a half, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have been extremely vocal about our deep concerns about taking another half-trillion dollars out of the Defense budget in an across-the-board fashion that fits every area, and that guarantees that we hollow out the military. Across the board cuts that would deeply damage our national security.
Today we approach another trigger for sequestration, March 1. And the Department of Defense is again facing what I believe and what the service chiefs believe and what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe is the most serious readiness crisis that this country is gonna confront in over a decade.
We’ve already implemented, tried to slow down the spend rate. We’ve implemented hiring freezes. We’ve curtailed facilities maintenance. We’re laying off temporary and term employees. We’re looking at putting 46,000 jobs at risk.
But we’re also being forced to contemplate what will happen if the sequester goes into effect. That’s just happening based on the fear of what we may face. If sequester happens, let me tell you some of the results:
We will furlough as many as 800,000 DOD civilians around the country for up to 22 days. They could face a 20 percent cut in their salary.
You don’t think that’s going to impact on our economy? You don’t think that’s going to impact on jobs? You don’t think that’s going to impact on our ability to recover from the recession?
We’re going to cut back on Army training and maintenance, putting about two-thirds of our active brigade combat teams outside Afghanistan at a reduced readiness level. We’ve got to cut back on their training.
Let me also remind you that sequester does serious damage to the non-defense side of the budget as well. It’s not just defense, it’s education, loss of teachers, it’s child care. I think the estimate is that some 100,000 children will be kicked out of Head Start. It’s about health care, 700,000 women and children will no longer receive nutritional assistance. It’s about food safety, it’s about law enforcement, it’s about airport safety. It’s about a number of other programs that support our quality of life in this country. And our quality of life is important to our national security. All of this would be the consequence of an arbitrary legislative mechanism so onerous, so onerous that it was designed not to take effect, but to force the right kind of action.