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Carl Levin Says Cutting 0.05% of a Military Budget That Has Doubled This Decade Will Endanger Us All
Last summer, during the crisis over raising the debt limit, Congress passed the Budget Control Act. That legislation established a so-called "supercommittee" to try to agree on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.
Because the supercommittee could not reach agreement, at the beginning of next year, automatic spending cuts called sequestration will kick in, divided equally between defense and domestic spending, cutting programs and activities across the board.
These automatic cuts are large, across-the-board cuts that set no priorities. They will do tremendous harm if we don't avoid them.
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I'm concerned about the impact sequestration could have on our national security. Men and women in uniform could lose their jobs. Training would be curtailed. Acquisition programs would be disrupted.
But when I look beyond defense, I'm also concerned. These cuts could leave us not just with a hollowed-out military, but a hollowed-out economy.
Sequestration threatens our ability to continue the economic recovery, to educate our children, to care for the sick, to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, to protect the environment, to invest in new technologies.
Our only option to avoid the economic train wreck from sequestration is to produce a balanced, bipartisan deficit reduction package. Balance requires three things. First, we need additional spending cuts -- but prudent, prioritized cuts. Second, we have to consider reforms of our entitlement programs. And third, we must include additional revenue.
Historically, federal tax revenue has been about 19-20 percent of our economic output. Today it's closer to 15 percent. Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton all reached deficit deals that got at least one-third of their deficit reduction from revenue.
Our tax code is full of loopholes, including offshore tax havens to help wealthy Americans avoid paying their taxes. Closing them down would restore billions of dollars in revenue.
We also must consider reversing Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, who have prospered in recent years even as middle-class incomes have stagnated.
Most Republicans in Congress have signed a pledge they will oppose any attempt to add new revenue to reduce the deficit and protect vital programs. Those opponents have to choose: Will they continue to defend tax breaks and loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans, which is the only group that has done well in the recession? Or will they choose to protect national security, students, seniors, and workers?
Ultimately, I think we will reach a balanced deficit reduction agreement. But if it comes too late -- during the lame duck session in December, for example -- much of the economic damage will already be done.
We know the way out. The way out is compromise. And if we know the path, we shouldn't wait to take it.