Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Clock ticking to disastrous defense cuts

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Defense industry CEOs, from left, David Hess, Robert Stevens and Sean O'Keefe warn the House against sequestration.
Defense industry CEOs, from left, David Hess, Robert Stevens and Sean O'Keefe warn the House against sequestration.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: On January 2, the defense budget will automatically be cut by about $500B
  • Bennett: "Sequestration" was meant to spur Washington to make a responsible deal
  • Now it threatens to gut military, he says. Defense secretary, generals, politicians don't want it
  • Washington must stop playing politics, he says, agree to budget deal to end the threat

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- Without action from Washington, on January 2, 2013, the U.S. defense budget will undergo the most dramatic and dangerous cuts in its history.

Because of the failure of the supercommittee to agree on a deficit reduction plan, the 2011 Budget Control Act automatically cuts about $500 billion from the defense budget. These cuts fall on top of the already agreed-upon $487 billion in reductions. All told, the cuts would amount to about $1 trillion over a decade.

The results would be nothing short of catastrophic. But don't take my word for it.

On November 14, 2011, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote a letter to Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham explaining the ramifications of the full sequestration defense cuts. Should these cuts take place over the next 10 years, he said, the United States would be left with its smallest ground force since World War II; the smallest Navy since 1915; the smallest fighter force in the history of the Air Force; and the smallest civilian work force in the Defense Department's history.

William Bennett
William Bennett

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, testified on Capitol Hill in May that such cuts would leave the corps without "adequate capabilities and capacities to meet a single major contingency operation."

National defense is only 20% of the budget, yet the sequester subjects it to 50% of the automatic cuts. The other $500 billion will be cut from domestic programs. Sequestration, which both Democrats and Republicans voted for, was intended to spur Washington to responsible action; it was never meant to be an effective deficit-reduction tool. No doctor operates with a pickax, unless, of course, he intends to maim his patient.

Who's to blame for threat of defense budget cuts?

Last week on my radio show, "Morning In America," Sen. Graham said the full brunt of these cuts would mean "no more F-35s, no more modern fighters" and "it means that those who are serving in the military will be sent off to future wars ill-equipped and unprepared."

How bad are the defense cuts?
Rep. McKeon: Soldiers will get fired
GOP blames Obama for defense cuts

Leaders on both sides of the aisle agree: Sequestration cuts will gut the world's greatest military. Washington cannot, and must not, allow this to happen. And yet, the president and his administration seem preoccupied with leveraging defense cuts for political gamesmanship.

Last week, the White House sent a letter to Capitol Hill saying it would exempt all military personnel from the cuts, thereby avoiding the political fallout from military voters and ensuring that the bulk of the cuts come to equipment, readiness, and weapons. We may have an army, but, if the cuts happen, little to arm them with.

The remainder of the cuts will fall on the Defense Department's wide network of contractors. In a recent study, the Aerospace Industries Association found that the sequester cuts could eliminate more than 2 million jobs and add 1.5% to the unemployment rate.

Such massive layoffs made in anticipation of the budget cuts and before an election would be disastrous, especially in swing states, like Virginia, whose economies depend heavily on defense contractors. Knowing full well the political fiasco this would be, the Obama administration's Labor Department issued a memo advising defense industry contractors to ignore the WARN Act, which requires federal contractors to issue layoff notices 60 days before, meaning they would land in employees' hands four days before the November 6 election.

Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, fired back at the White House and told contractors to ignore the Labor Department.

On Tuesday, the White House finally agreed to detail exactly where these massive cuts will come from within the Defense Department and from domestic programs. The president signed the bill only after the Democrat-led Senate unanimously passed the Republican-led House's Sequestration Transparency Act, which requires the White House to inform Congress and the public exactly how and where the sequestration cuts will be made.

Now that the cuts will be disclosed in full view, one cannot believe the president would go against the wishes of his own secretary of defense and generals and allow the military to be subjected to these traumatic cuts and massive layoffs.

Rather, the president seems to be engaging Republicans in a high-stakes game of chicken -- his demands, like tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans, or the threat of sequestration. Republicans shouldn't yield, but call this what it is -- reckless and dangerous politicking.

After all, the president is the commander-in-chief. If he takes credit for the death of Osama bin Laden, he takes responsibility for welfare of the military and the safety of America.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT