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Op-Ed: Stopping more cuts to defense

January 7, 2014
Op-Ed and Speech

Congress returns to work this week having finally passed a budget compromise bill just before the holiday break. By definition compromises are not perfect, but this one was better than the alternative of doing nothing, which would have led to more automatic cuts to our military and another government shutdown.

In his first term, the president passed his bloated stimulus bill, doubling the national debt with massive new spending on non-military programs. The military never benefited from these stimulus spending increases. Instead, defense received two cuts of over $500 billion. Then came sequestration.

Though a blunt instrument, sequestration has had some positive impacts, forcing spending reductions on a reluctant president and Congress. Total government spending has actually been reduced for two consecutive years, which is good. The problem is on the defense side of the equation. While defense spending doesn't make up anywhere near half our national budget, half of all sequestration cuts were designed to come out of our military. This created a disproportionate hit on one of the few constitutional duties of the federal government -- providing for the common defense. That's not fair and it's why I opposed the defense sequester from the start. 

When defense sequestration is added on top of the first two defense cuts, this basically puts the military $1.3 trillion in the hole. The House saw the chance to stop this trend and we acted, preventing the round of defense sequestration cuts that were set to start again this very week.

The House's original budget was superior to what finally became law, but it sat untouched in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Our bill prioritized military spending (essential for Hill AFB and civilian defense workers) at around $550 billion.  The compromise eventually adopted is approximately $520 billion, but if this compromise had not passed, sequestration would have automatically cut the military to around $490 billion. This additional defense cut, which would have kicked in right now, would have seriously jeopardized military training and equipment, hurt military families, and virtually guaranteed another round of furloughs for civilian defense workers. It would have harmed the defense of the country, including Hill AFB.  So to put a stop to that, I supported the budget compromise, allowing Congress to fulfill its Constitutional duty to provide for the common defense.

Three other issues in the budget compromise deserve discussion. First, civilian retirement programs have been targeted for cuts by some in Congress and the administration for years. Cuts are not needed to make the federal retirement system secure, but some see it as a source of new federal money. This recent budget bill realized it's unfair to make retroactive cuts to existing employees, and proposed changes only for future employees and those not vested. This is a big improvement over earlier proposals.

Second, the change in military retirement cost-of-living benefits does not remain once a retiree hits age 62 nor should it apply to disability retirement. This provision is not great, but not as bad as some in the administration wanted. I believe this provision should be further modified to apply only to new service members, and I have co-sponsored House bills to make the adjustment.

Finally, the bill in October that ended the government shutdown included a 1 percent pay increase in 2014 for white-collar government workers but a technical glitch in the Senate left out blue-collar workers. The Senate leadership was aware of this discrepancy and refused to fix it. This most recent budget bill should have fixed this unfairness. I am disappointed that a solution wasn't included but am hopeful that it'll be fixed retroactively this month.

Given past defense cuts and the precarious state of military readiness, it was right for Congress to pass this budget compromise and stop more looming defense cuts. Starting this week, we can work on improving the imperfections and building on the progress so far.

Rep. Bishop represents Utah's First Congressional District.