Coming Soon to Your Town: Sequestration Road Tour

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Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Randy Forbes is planning a road tour to detail the damage sequestration would do to the nation's defenses

Americans will celebrate Memorial Day next month, and honor those who’ve died while serving to protect the rest of us. But some concerned members of Congress are going to skip their hometown barbeques so they can hit the road: they’ll be warning of a looming half-trillion-dollar cut in defense spending over the next decade (atop the $487 billion already being carved out of the Pentagon’s projected spending plan).

Representative Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and other members of the House Armed Services Committee are embarking on a national listening tour to talk loudly about an inside Washington term known as sequestration — big military spending cuts, to the rest of us.

While the House and Senate are busy passing their defense spending bills over the next few weeks, current federal law will break those plans (and possibly the U.S. military) come January. Congress is budgeting under the White House assumption that an additional half trillion in defense cuts over the next nine years—and $99 billion in FY 2013 alone—agreed to as part of last year’s debt ceiling deal will not come to pass.

These automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, became law when the Super Committee failed to negotiate a package of over $1 trillion in deficit reduction last year. Unless the President and Congress can agree on a different solution, this will leave the military absorbing yet another round of budget cuts because Washington cannot agree on what to do about taxes and long overdue entitlement reform.

There is near universal recognition that these additional and arbitrary reductions would harm those who serve and our security. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has said that under sequestration, America would no longer be the global power that it is today.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said that sequestration would be akin to “shooting ourselves in the head.” Former Army Vice Chief of Staff Jack Keane went as far as to say “We would be a mere shadow of our former selves and be unable to face our global responsibilities.”

Despite these warnings, only one chamber of Congress is preparing to replace the automatic military cuts with other debt-reduction plans. While the House is expected to pass two separate bills to address sequestration next month, they are dead on arrival in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to kill any sequestration deal that does not include tax hikes. With politics as usual continuing until the election, those affected expect some resolution in the “lame duck” session of Congress after the Presidential election.

But they don’t call it “lame” for nothing.

Lost on the Pentagon is the reality that addressing military spending cuts is a small priority for a lame-duck session that has to tackle three expiring tax breaks, another vote to increase the debt ceiling, addressing the spending levels of all federal agencies for the rest of the year, and passing other legislation (deep breath), all while possibly confronting a possible credit downgrade that will chill America’s economy. Lost on the Senate and White House is the fact that waiting until winter to address sequestration will be too late.

The impact on military families and communities across America, as well as many workers that support warfighters by building ships, vehicles and aircraft, will begin showing consequences this autumn.

But few inside Washington think Americans are concerned about sequestration. House Armed Services Committee Readiness Subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes (R-Va.) wants to change that. He’s embarking on the “Defending Our Defenders” national tour to conduct installation oversight and hold local town-hall meetings to better understand the real impact of sequestration.

The tour begins on May 14 in Hampton Roads, Virginia–along with Representative Scott Rigell (R-Va.) –followed by stops in San Diego on May 22 and the Florida panhandle on May 24. Forbes and team are building out other tour stops as well, and may visit a dozen other locations across the country.

The idea behind these conversations is to give local stakeholders a chance to come talk about their experiences, and what these cuts will mean to them personally, including veterans, small business owners, union workers, chambers of commerce and military spouses. This bipartisan tour is designed for members to listen, not advocate solutions because sequestration is not a partisan problem. Hopefully the voices of those attending will be loud enough to spur Washington into action now and not wait until the lame ducks of December.