In a political system more polarized than at any time in recent memory, there is agreement across virtually the entire political spectrum on one thing: sequestration will do serious, possibly irreparable, damage to U.S. national security. This is a view shared by President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, the heads of the relevant Congressional Committees and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Implicit in their criticisms of sequestration is acceptance of this country’s need for a relatively large and capable military. Yes, the military can be made more efficient. But if that military is to protect and defend not only the territory and people of the United States but overseas interests and allies as well, then it must be relatively large, well-equipped, well-trained and able to project power globally on a sustained basis. In other words, it will be expensive.
In order to avoid sequestration, Congress and the White House need to agree on a plan that produces $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction through spending cuts and/or tax increases. Here is where the political divide is both wide and deep. Republicans want to cut the deficit by reducing spending alone and even then without major additional reductions to defense spending. They argue that defense has already taken a disproportionate share of prior spending cuts. Democrats want a balance of spending cuts and tax increases although there is a growing minority that rejects the idea of any further spending cuts or even entitlement reforms. House Republicans have proposed several plans which would replace sequestration’s cuts to discretionary programs with modest reductions to entitlements. Senate Democrats proposed a plan to cover the reductions required in 2013 that includes $55 billion in spending cuts and $54 billion in new tax revenue. Over a decade this would produce approximately $1 trillion in deficit reduction. Half the spending cuts would come from defense and half from reductions in agricultural subsidies. The Republican plan would spare defense from any cuts while the Democratic plan would impose an additional $275 billion in cuts to defense spending if the 2013 formula was extended for the same period as sequestration. Republicans don’t like taxes and Democrats don’t like spending cuts, except when it comes to the defense budget. There doesn’t seem to be much room for compromise.
How about a national security tax to put a floor under defense spending? If we want to use the sequestration figure as the target this would mean an additional $55 billion a year in taxes. The funds would go only to the 050 budget accounts that encompass almost all national security activities. Such a tax would take national security off the table allowing Republicans and Democrats to fight over the entire array of domestic spending issues without risking grave harm to the nation’s security. Defense is one of a small number of federal expenditures that benefits all people regardless of income, identity, location, education or political affiliation. Hence, the national security should be levied on all income, not just that over a certain income threshold.