Leon Panetta: Sequestration Creating Self-Inflicted Wounds

In today's Washington Post, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta criticizes the limited effort so far in replacing sequestration. Panetta highlights that the damage to be done by the blunt, mindless cuts in sequestration was well-known, and yet a compromise to avert it has not been achieved. With all the delays, cancellations, and furloughs from sequestration beginning to mount, and with even greater problems just down the road, Panetta finds inaction even more unacceptable.

It was difficult for me to accept that explanation then, and it is even more difficult to accept it now in the face of mounting evidence that the sequester is doing serious damage to our defense, our society and our economy.

In defense alone, according to recent testimony to the House Armed Services Committee by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Adm. James A. Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fewer than half of the Air Force’s frontline fighters are combat-ready; 12 combat squadrons have been grounded; key Combat Training Center rotations have been canceled; multiple ship deployments, including the USS Truman carrier strike group, have been canceled; and furloughs for 650,000 civilian employees continue, resulting in a 20 percent pay reduction during every furlough week. These and other effects of sequestration are weakening the United States’ ability to respond effectively to a major crisis in the world beyond the war zone in Afghanistan.

To have this happen under any circumstance is irresponsible. To have it happen as the result of a self-inflicted wound is outrageous.

Panetta believes a democracy can govern in two ways, by leadership or by crisis. Unfortunately, Washington has been closer to the latter when dealing with budgetary issues recently. Many are already beginning to lose faith in their elected officials and the ability of the political process to come to an agreement. It will only get worse if we continue stumbling from crisis to crisis - the U.S. could even lose some of its legitimacy on the international stage if we are unable to get our fiscal house in order.

But while the default behavior is to continue governing by crisis, there are also opportunities for real leadership. Panetta closes by asking lawmakers to remember their duty to serve:

In these next few months, major decisions loom on the budget, the debt ceiling, appropriations, the sequester and immigration reform. If nothing is done because of political gridlock, members may somehow hold onto their offices, but the United States will have been weakened — and not as the consequence of some unforeseeable event, but because our elected leaders did nothing.

Neither Congress nor the nation can afford to become resigned to failure. If brave men and women in uniform can put their lives on the line every day to defend our nation, then surely members of Congress can take the risks to do what is necessary to keep America strong. That is not just their responsibility. It is their solemn oath.

Lawmakers should take Panetta's advice and use these upcoming discussions to replace the mindless sequester and finally put our budget on a sustainable path. Our national security will be better for it.

Click here to read Panetta's full piece.