The Budget Control Act: a lateral pass is not leadership

By William Schneider, Special to the BDN
Posted June 08, 2012, at 2:06 p.m.

Our skyrocketing national debt now exceeds $15 trillion and puts our safety and solvency in the hands of the foreign powers that are financing our trillion-dollar annual deficits. Our national debt is the gravest security threat facing the United States today and will be my No. 1 issue as Maine’s next United States senator.

I am the former commander of an A-Team of Green Berets. For me there is no more troubling example of the impact of poor fiscal discipline in Washington than the potential automatic cut of $600 billion from the 10-year defense budget coming in January of 2013 because of the Budget Control Act.

Last summer, Congress and the president once again failed to pass a federal budget.

For the third year in a row, our elected representatives could not do the hard work of examining federal expenditures with an eye toward reducing bureaucracy, consolidating unnecessary departments, streamlining tax policy and eliminating subsidies that provide uncompetitive industries with unfair advantages.

Instead of leading, Congress passed the Budget Control Act as part of a political deal to raise the debt limit and end the brinksmanship that nearly resulted in a government shutdown.

The Budget Control Act established a special select committee to come up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. Because the committee failed to identify the required savings, the act sets forward automatic cuts of $600 billion in defense spending and $600 billion in domestic programs.

The automatic cuts are called sequestration and will result in an 8 percent across-the-board cut in defense spending. Because war costs and military pay are exempt, the cuts at the Pentagon will be focused on operations and maintenance, research, procurement and construction. These critical areas of defense spending and investment will be reduced by about 13 percent.

The sheer size of the cuts to our readiness is cause for great alarm. But the problem is even worse when one considers how the cuts are being made — across-the-board reductions with no regard for national security priorities.

There is no question that our defense budget, just like every other line item in the federal budget, needs to be subject to review with an eye toward reducing our trillion-dollar annual deficits. Yet Congress and defense leaders need to do this with an eye toward our current military needs and future threats rather than through a poorly designed response rooted in partisanship and a lack of leadership.

The potential impact of the Budget Control Act on defense spending is troubling, but just one part of the bigger problem in Washington — an inability to set priorities and live within the means of the American taxpayer.

As we are seeing with the Budget Control Act fallout, our inability to control spending puts critical national priorities such as defense at risk. The same applies to Social Security and other programs Americans rely on. Our ballooning national debt also makes it harder to keep capital in the job-creating private sector.

As a senator, I am going to fight for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution and a “no-pay” law that suspends the pay of members of Congress if a budget is not passed. The discipline that would come with a Balanced Budget Amendment, coupled with strong congressional oversight, will force consolidation of Cabinet-level agencies and leave as much governing as possible to state and local governments.

I am also going to fight for real health care reform that gives consumers price and quality-based incentives and to make serious changes to our entitlement programs.

One example would be transitioning Medicaid to a fiscally responsible state block grant program that provides state governments with more flexibility to serve their neediest citizens.

Lateral passes by themselves do not result in forward progress. Unfortunately, lateral passes are too often what serve as leadership in Washington. My mission as Maine’s next U.S. senator will be to move past the instant and the easy and bring real leadership and fiscal responsibility to Washington.

William Schneider is Maine’s 56th attorney general and a candidate for the Maine Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/08/opinion/contributors/the-budget-control-act-a-lateral-pass-is-not-leadership/ printed on September 18, 2014