Over the coming weeks, as Congress debates several fiscal issues, I remain focused on replacing the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration with a balanced alternative to bring down the deficit. I wanted to share an op-ed I wrote for the Washington Times about the impact the sequester is having on our military readiness and regional economy and the need for Congress to work together to achieve the savings needed to replace it:
Replacing the Sequester Will Ensure a Strong National Defense
Throughout this fall, Congress is again faced with a number of critical fiscal issues we must address: keeping the government funded, ensuring our nation pays its bills, and determining whether we will allow the federal budget sequester to continue. I remain firm in my belief that the sequester is a dangerous and irrational policy. It not only threatens our military readiness and national security, but also brings serious economic consequences to communities that house our nation’s defense installations. As Congress debates the best course of action to reduce deficits and put America back on a sound fiscal footing, we must continue to pursue a big, balanced, and bipartisan approach that achieves the savings required to end the sequester.
The sequester precludes Congress from setting budget priorities, instead forcing arbitrary cuts to our highest and lowest priorities equally. This has resulted in reductions in funding for both domestic and defense spending that could put our nation and its economy at risk. In addition to the cuts affecting vulnerable Americans – including to Meals on Wheels, Head Start, and housing assistance programs – the sequester has led to furloughs for 650,000 civilian defense personnel and canceled or reduced contracts for defense firms that support our military operations. Moreover, the Pentagon has cut back training hours and grounded air combat units.
I have no doubt that the sequester could have dangerous consequences for our military readiness. With another $20 billion set to be cut from defense spending under next year’s sequester, it is imperative that Congress act quickly to replace the sequester with a big and balanced alternative, achieving equal savings in the coming year.
The communities that support our defense installations, such as Pax River Naval Air Station, the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head, and Joint Base Andrews in my home state of Maryland, are also feeling the adverse effects of the sequester. While federal investment in Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland has helped attract new private sector opportunities, and defense and aerospace contractors have opted to locate their operations nearer to their federal customers, the sequester could cause these opportunities to dwindle, hurting local economies.
Certainly, the sequester provides a strong argument for greater economic diversification in these communities. While continuing to urge my colleagues to replace the sequester, I join in calling for greater economic diversification for our region. We have the opportunity to leverage the federal dollars invested in our area to help build up the local private sector and spur greater development, as has been successfully done in other parts of the country. That’s why I am encouraged that Maryland has lately seen efforts to promote greater diversification and promote the commercialization of defense and aerospace technologies.
This has been especially true with regard to autonomous systems, satellite components, cybersecurity technologies, and vehicle propulsion and navigation equipment, which all have wide possibilities for civilian uses. The companies that came to Maryland in order to supply Pax River or NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center are already finding it a lucrative place from which to manufacture these products, sell them around the country, and export them across the world. In May, I joined with the rest of our state’s Congressional delegation to urge the U.S. Department of Transportation to support a bid by the University System of Maryland to operate a test facility for unmanned aerial vehicle training, development, and research with the goal of applying UAV technologies to private sector enterprises. New Jersey and Virginia have already agreed to partner with Maryland on developing and launching such a facility, which will strengthen our application to the Federal Aviation Administration.
But as much as I believe we ought to pursue greater diversification to ensure a stronger economic future for our region, I will keep working to make sure the Washington Metro area remains a target for federal investment. This investment has already made our region a hub for innovation and high-tech entrepreneurship. The best way to ensure that robust federal investment in the Washington Metro area continues to have a positive impact on economic growth is for Congress to achieve the big and balanced solution to deficits necessary to turn the sequester off.
We owe it to our men and women in uniform and all those who work in civilian roles – supporting their missions and developing the latest war-fighting technologies – to make sure dysfunction in Congress does not get in the way of maintaining the greatest military force the world has ever seen. I will continue to work with the rest of our area’s delegation to support funding for military and civilian facilities in our area that attract jobs and investment. And while we focus on our region’s economic vitality, our principle focus must remain on ensuring that our national defense is second to none.
Thank you for allowing me to share this op-ed with you. I encourage you to visit my Facebook page and connect with me on Twitter to share your opinions on this important matter.