A push to repeal sequestration, or automatic defense budget cuts military leaders have derided as damaging to defense readiness and replacing aging weapons, has gained “momentum” in Congress, a Dayton congressman said.
U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Jim Banks, R-Indiana, received classified briefings Tuesday at Wright-Patterson and toured the National Air and Space Intelligence Center as Congress is in the midst of hammering out the fiscal year 2018 defense budget and the U.S. and its allies face growing nuclear tensions with North Korea.
At a press conference Tuesday after the briefings, Turner said Congress was “one step closer” with the support of the Trump administration to repeal the Budget Control Act of 2011 that imposed sequestration through 2021.
Banks said repealing sequestration would help “rebuild” the military. Both Turner and Banks are members of the House Armed Services Committee.
The cuts led to the furlough of thousands of federal civil service employees at bases like Wright-Patterson in 2013, among other consequences, and led congressional leaders to appropriate additional money to fight battles overseas to fill the funding gap.
“We’re in a different position than we were previously,” said Turner, chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee. “The president has called for an end to sequestration.”
A majority of the Senate supports the repeal and the issue was gaining “momentum” in the House, Turner said.
“It’s been several years since we’ve had furloughs at Wright-Patterson as a result of sequestration,” he added. “But I think we need a more long-term response and that’s what I’m hoping with the president’s support we’re going to be able to do and that is permanently end sequestration and not merely just push it off another year.”
Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, warned if it’s repealed the government would spend more and the national debt will grow faster.
“The accumulated debt has already reached $20 trillion, which our kids will have to pay back with interest,” he said in an email. “Even with sequestration, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the government will need to borrow $700 billion in fiscal 2017 (ending October 1) to cover its obligations. We could repeal sequestration and keep the debt in check by raising taxes, but that would require more discipline than Washington seems to have.”
On Monday, the Senate passed a defense policy authorization bill in an 89-8 vote that appropriated $640 billion in baseline spending, more than President Donald Trump requested, and another $60 billion for combat operations overseas. The legislation will head to a House and Senate conference committee to reach a final deal in the coming weeks.
Trump and Congress reached an earlier spending deal to enact a temporary spending measure — known as a continuing resolution — through the end of December to avoid a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Both Turner and Banks voted against the stop-gap measure.
Turner said he was “very disappointed” both the House and the Senate passed the continuing resolution, noting Secretary of Defense James Mattis “had made it clear of the devastating impact of a continuing resolution on the military because they don’t have the ability to respond to new threats or to start new programs” and are restricted to spending no more than budgeted the prior year.
Turner also said a state task force started to explore the vulnerabilities of military installations in Ohio to a round of base closures — commonly called base realignment and closure or BRAC, was overdue.
The panel’s work was “incredibly important because Ohio is very behind in stepping to the plate on a state level to support its military facilities” while other states such as Texas and Alabama actively prepare, Turner said.
“I think our vulnerability here continues to be that we need more jointness,” he said. “There are many missions that happen here at Wright-Patt where we are working with other service branches, but we need to actually bring the other service branches here in a collaborative way that is happening at other bases.”