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AUSA president: ‘Sequestration biggest threat to Army readiness’

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Two recent hearings on Capitol Hill focused on pay and compensation proposals outlined in the fiscal 2015 defense budget request. Statements made by lawmakers would lead one to believe that Congress is not 100 percent on-board with some of the provisions contained in the DoD’s plan.

The budget includes provisions that would:

Reduce the Army’s end strength from 520,000 active duty soldiers down to a range of 440,000-450,000; the Army National Guard from 355,000 to 335,000; and the Army Reserve 205,000 to 185,000.

Provide one percent pay raise for military personnel and cap raises in the out years.

Cut housing allowances and abolish the reimbursement of renter’s insurance.

Reduce by $1 billion over three years, the annual direct subsidy provided to military commissaries.

Consolidate TRICARE health plans and adjust deductibles and co-pays.

Request another round of Base Realignment and Closure in 2017.

In a hearing of the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, Chairman Joe Wilson, R-S.C., told the assembled group that his subcommittee’s goal is to "better understand how the Department of Defense will balance the budgetary realities of today and the future with the readiness and morale and continued success of the all-volunteer force." Wilson also noted that while defense officials insist the changes would not hurt troops’ quality of life, "there’s no doubt it will cut purchasing power" of troops and "affect their day-to-day financial decisions."

Ranking Member Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said that she is "sympathetic to the challenges that we are facing under sequestration" but that the subcommittee wants to "better understand reasoning and business case analysis that went into these proposals and the actual impact that they are going to have on our families."

Over on the Senate side, Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chairwoman Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said that DoD’s plans to change the compensation package amounts to "changing the deal" promised to troops and their families.

Ranking Member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that while he sympathizes with military officials struggling with the budget restrictions of sequestration, he worries the proposed changes demand too much sacrifice from troops and families.

Sequestration. Mention sequestration and your audience’s eyes glaze over. However, the impact sequestration is having on the military is devastating because of the automatic, mindless cuts it imposes. It has created successive years of defense budgetary instability that has caused program cuts, civilian employee furloughs, compromised military training and readiness and a reduced ability to retain highly-qualified military personnel.

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., provided testimony for the record to the Senate’s hearing. His primary message to the panel: End sequestration permanently before more damage is done and before we are left with an inadequate national defense force!

In his testimony, Sullivan said, "AUSA believes that the primary source of the budget challenges that face the Department of Defense is the devastating effect of the sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

"America will remain the world’s greatest power only so long as it continues to fulfill its reciprocal obligation to the only weapon system that has never let our country down – our extraordinarily dedicated, top-quality, All-Volunteer career force."

Sullivan said that not only is sequestration and a declining defense budget having an adverse effect on military readiness, "we are also seeing an emergence of international doubt as to the credibility of the United States as a reliable ally and partner. I am convinced we must be seen as a credible ally - if not, we are on a very slippery slope to disaster. Credibility in this context is found in the perception of strength and national resolve to be responsive to our treaty commitments with balanced, trained, and ready forces.

"Similarly, adversaries are most certainly watching the steady decline of American military power and will likely take more and more risk to challenge U.S. leadership. Moreover, the decline in United States military strength can lead to strategic miscalculation by potential adversaries. A credibly sized forced – not just a reasonably sized force – provides a deterrent effect that is withering under the constraints of sequestration."

Please add your voice to Gen. Sullivan’s and contact your elected officials and urge them to end sequestration permanently. Go to our website, www.ausa.org, click on the Contact Congress link, enter your zip code and click on the AUSA-prepared letter to Congress titled "End Sequestration Permanently."

Just a patch, not a fix. In 1997, Congress created the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) in order to control Medicare spending by tying it to the rest of the economy’s growth. It worked fine for the first few years; however, as health care costs started outpacing the economy, it failed and left the entitlement with a multi-billion dollar shortfall.

Finding a permanent solution to the annual cuts in reimbursement rates for physicians who treat Medicare patients has proven to be next to impossible. Because payment rates in the TRICARE program are tied to Medicare rates, this affects many military beneficiaries. Each year, Congress implements short-term patches that merely make the problem worse. This year, doctors were facing a 24 percent reduction.

Unable to agree on how to pay for a permanent fix, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reached an agreement on another one-year patch. Part of the bill would be paid for by moving about $4.9 billion savings from Medicare sequester cuts into fiscal 2024.

The House passed the "doc fix" legislation by a voice vote after Republican leaders spent hours trying to round up enough votes. In order for the bill to pass with a roll-call vote, two-thirds of the 432-seat House would have to vote for it, meaning more than 50 of the 199 Democrats would have had to go along, even if all Republicans had supported it. Faced with push-back from his own caucus and the stated opposition of Democrats, Boehner discarded the roll-call vote.

The Senate passed the measure soon after.

We are disappointed that once again Congress was unable to reach a compromise on a permanent solution. Our frustration was shared by American College of Physicians President Molly Cooke who, in a letter to House and Senate leadership, said, "Now is the time for Congress to resolve the remaining differences over how to address the budget impact of the bipartisan and bicameral SGR repeal and Medicare payment reform policies that both chambers and parties say that they support. There will never be a better time."