Edmonds Military Wire: How sequestration impacts the Puget Sound

Mike SchindlerBy Michael Schindler

With all the political chatter from both parties, it can be a bit of a challenge navigating through the white noise of rhetoric to truly understand what sequestration means to our area. Do we need to be concerned or can we expect to go about our lives with a “business as usual” attitude?

Expect an economic slowdown.

Our military and veteran demographics have a significant impact on the economic health of our region and state. With over 91,000 military-related employees and over 600,000 veterans in this state, sequestration will impact individuals within the state’s counties and cities – including Edmonds.

First let me define sequestration – essentially it means forced budget cuts. Or, as TIME defines it, “Sequestration: to haphazardly cut federal spending at the direction of U.S. lawmakers, who can’t agree on anything more rational.”

Here’s how all this forced reduction issue came about – we all know that Congress has a spending problem. Most know that Congress spends on our behalf more than they take in – in business we call this bad. Congress heard from enough constituents that they had to reel in spending – so they formed a committee and that committee came up with the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The Budget Control Act established a process, known as sequestration, where automatic, across-the-board spending cuts would take effect on March 1, 2013 if the 12 chosen Congressional lawmakers (the committee) could not come to some sort of agreement on reduced spending. The committee failed. As a result, these cuts, according to L2 Federal Resources, “are currently slated to affect both mandatory and discretionary spending and are predicted to produce roughly $108 billion in annual spending reductions through 2021, split evenly between defense and non-defense accounts.”

Yes, that is $108 billion in annual spending reductions…not $85 billion or $45 billion – which are the “media” numbers. Office of Management and Budget also sheds light on agencies affected by cutbacks.

I’ll be the first to admit, budget cuts need to happen; how we cut the budget needs to be executed smartly, which is not happening.

So what does all this mean – like in practical terms? First off, military pay and combat operations won’t be affected…this year at least; and VA programs, including disability benefits and care are exempt from cuts. However, tuition assistance funding for Active Duty was terminated by both the Marines and the Army, and emergency unemployment benefits for a number of Veterans face an 11-percent cut.

Up to 29,000 workers in the Puget Sound area could either be laid off or furloughed – and furlough is just a creative way of saying, “you get a day off without pay every week” until we decide otherwise – which amounts to a 20-percent pay cut.

Say goodbye to discretionary spending…if in fact these families had it.

Bottom line: How sequestration hits the pocket book of families across our region will vary. What will be consistent is the uncertainty that is created among a number of industries and communities that support our military. As a result, we need to think creatively on how to shore up and increase our city revenues or prepare for an economic slowdown.

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include  “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.”  He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

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26 Comments

  1. The military budget for the US is greater than the military budgets for eleven (11) of the world’s leading developed nations.

    This is an issue that must be debated in the public sphere. In the 2012 Recommended Discretionary Spending proposal, 60% of our total US budget was for military purposes (Dept. of Defense, War, Veterans’ Affairs, and Nuclear Weapons Programs). Only 7% was for Health and Human Services. Only 6% was for Education. Only 5% went to state government programs. Only 4% went for “other programs.” For the Dept. of “Homeland” Security, 3.4%. Housing and Urban Development received 4%. Justice got only 2%. Agriculture received 2%. NASA — 1.5%. Energy, excluding nuclear weapons programs, received 1%. Labor: 1%; treasure: 1%. Department of Interior (All of our National Parks, the BLM, the USGS, NOAA, and more): only 1%; the EPA — 1%; and Transportation: 1%.

    This is (or should be) a national outrage. If our economy is so heavily out of balance toward defense, then what are we as a nation? We need to forget the “We’re Number One” mentality or the notion that we are the policeman of the planet and become more civilized as a society. Having military services as the #1 employer of our citizens is a frightening situation. While we are grateful for the service of military personnel, we need to remember that they are included in the “BIG GOVERNMENT’ that the RadCons want to shrink. They just don’t recognize that the military departments are one major part of the BIG GOVERNMENT that they claim to want to shrink. Every military employee is living off of the taxes of everyone else who pays taxes. Think about it.

    Source: http://www.OneMinuteForPeace.org

  2. “Every military employee is living off the taxes of everyone else who pays taxes…” True. However, unless, they are in a combat-free tax zone, their basic pay is taxable. And since 1957, they have been paying into social security as well.

    I remember my grandfather telling me that when he was going through the Depression that those that weren’t impacted only thought it was a recession – after all, only 25% of the population was unemployed – he said folks only considered it a Depression if it impacted them personally. Here’s my point: all the departments you listed above will be impacted – and there will be a ripple affect…so prepare.

    My suggestion would be to channel that outrage and present a reasonable solution. Each one of those departments listed above could benefit from process re-engineering.

  3. Thanks for the information about military personnel and the taxes that they pay. It appears that the “sequester” is a fake issue that will only take our U.S. economy even further into debt. In Europe the austerity budgets have driven several countries to the brink of bankruptcy. The opposition party in the US House seems determined to push the economy to the point where more privatization can occur, shrinking democratic control of many factors related to government: less regulation and more profit for the wealthiest in our society.

    I left out an important word in my first sentence, so here it is again:

    “The military budget for the US is greater than the military budgets for eleven (11) of the world’s leading developed nations COMBINED.”

    The money that is spent on secret programs to weaponize space, to produce more advanced instruments for war — that money needs to be spent on such things as “not-for-profit health care” programs, education, and protection of our natural resources. We are heading swiftly down a path of self-destruction — destroying everything that was provided to us by the Creator or Mother Nature. While all activities can be made more efficient, the over emphasis on defense and fear of “the other” is terribly misguided. Strength through peace (e.g., foreign exchange programs like Sister Cities programs, artistic and educational exchanges, student-to-student communications, and providing drinking water systems in countries that need them) — these will build good relationships with other nations. Drones and other high-tech weaponry are creating enemies where they strike and strong criticism from other nations that have traditionally been our allies. Maybe we should create a public meeting in Edmonds to discuss these troubling issues.

  4. I recommend that everyone see this information:

    >http://www.coolestone.com/media/5459/Wealth-Inequality-in-America/>

    In case URLs cannot be transmitted, it’s

    “coolestone.com/media/5459/Wealth-Inequality-in-America/”

    Let’s create a public discussion in Edmonds about these issues.

  5. Mike, another great article and right on target. Keep talking, my soldiers and their families need your voice, as you are much more graceful that I when it comes to tellilng our story.

  6. Rebecca, as an active duty Army chaplain and reaching my 25th year in uniform, I completely agree with you that the pentagon’s budget far exceeds what is actually required for national defense. Yes, our Nation spends more on protecting our “national interests” than the rest of the world combined and as result we have a national debt with unfunded liabilities that is about to exceed global GDP. So, again, you’re absolutely right to demand politicians cut spending—even more than could be cut with a “scalpel,” “meat cleaver,” or “hatchet” as we’ve heard in rhetorical exchange between the parties. If it were up to me, I’d cut the pentagon’s budget by 50%, immediately starting at the top and working my way down.

    Unfortunately, that is not the case with these sequester cuts. In that, the vast majority of these cuts bypasses billions of dollars in fraudulent expenses at the top and instead targets the necessary services provided to my youngest soldiers and their families. Programs like on-post childcare, medical providers, personnel clerks, and most importantly those counselors that have been busy addressing the trauma experienced by our returning war veterans, namely suicide intervention and addiction recovery.

    Rebecca, again, while I agree we need to cut spending across the board, I believe Mike is right in saying we need to be smart about these cuts. To do so, however, requires an honest discussion about the total costs of our war on terrorism. If you’ll remember back in September 2001 the entire nation called on President Bush for a violent response to the 9/11 terrorists attacks. His response was an undeclared, unfunded War on Terrorism that still has our military deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and several other nations throughout the Middle East. Though Americans have already spent trillions of borrowed dollars on this war, the total costs are only just now being felt as hundreds of thousands of veterans have returned with the traumas of combat. Unfortunately, again, a new generation of Americans somehow forgot that the total costs of war involved much more than just tanks, planes, and bullets, but also included decades of health and healing to restore combat veterans and their families back to their “new normal.”

    Now, back to sequester, Mike is right in saying we have to be smart about these cuts. In that, there are literally thousands of line items where we can cut billions of dollars from the defense budget without causing unnecessary harm to our already war-torn soldiers and families. Again, if I were cutting this budget I would first look at the billions paid to thousands of nongovernmental operations/agencies (NGO/NGA) still operating throughout the Middle East and even here in the states. These are private corporations hired by the federal government and defense department primarily to provide services to our deployed soldiers. Our Army trained cooks for example deploy to Afghanistan to watch HD TVs when they’re not driving trucks because all the dining facilities are managed and staffed by contracted civilians earning , tax free, 3-4 times the average salary of a food service worker here in the states. What’s even more wasteful are the billions of dollars paid to NGO/NGAs who’ve been contracted to build our field operating bases (FOB) into cities that will no doubt become permanent duty assignments just as those built in Germany during WWII and later in Korea. Kandahar Air Field for example is one of, if not, the largest FOB in Afghanistan and boasts of housing 30,000 with construction projects still ongoing that may triple in size in the coming years. Anyway you calculate the number, 90,000 military and civilian contractor living within it’s walls is greater in size and operational costs than are any of the small towns scattered across America. Again, this is all at the expense of the American taxpayer who has thus far been powerless to stop a government addicted to it’s limitless credit card.

    Rebecca, believe me. I hear what you’re saying about our excessively bloated defense department and the billions spent annually in waste, fraud, and abuse and you’re absolutely right to complain. However, I’d ask that you join with me and many others in demanding our leaders lead by example and start cutting at the top while doing all they can to keep the necessary services provided to the youngest of my soldiers and families.

    Here’s what I mean, name one career officer who is impacted by the suspension of tuition assistance. Not one. Tuition assistance is a necessary program used by the youngest of my soldiers to help them earn a college degree during their time in service. This was also a program promised to them during their recruiting process. Now that it is suspended, not only will hundreds of thousands of entry-level service members no longer have access to a college education, they will not be as competitive for promotion in the coming years. What’s more, many of those whose occupation is downsizing are now facing a rapidly approaching exit date before they could finish their associate’s degree—for many the opportunity for college was the chief motivating factor in their decision to join. Thus, in their mind, the military and their federal government just defaulted on their end of the contract.

    Again, Mike is much more graceful than I and if you ask me, the motive behind these sequester cuts was meant to leverage the pain experienced by the youngest of my soldiers and their families in order to gain a political advantage. Yes, we need to cut, but let’s cut the waste before we cut the necessary. So, please, keep adding your voice to ours in demanding our politicians get smart about these cuts.

  7. Great post, Roy, and nice article, Mike. As retired military, I couldn’t agree more. Imbedded programs and contractor waste abound, and I believe Secretary Hegel will be a catalyst at getting to some of these issues. He, as a combat veteran and pragmatist, gets it. I once had one of my commanders say that if you put a few very smart and informed senior officers and enlisted in a room for 30 days and told them they could see their families again when they devised a plan to reduce defense spending responsibly by a third, they’d be out of that room in less than a week. It can and should be done. Our young military members and families deserve no less. We need to take care of those who serve, but do not need to unduly enrich those who are contracted to serve them. And Rebecca, keep your voice strong. We can maintain a responsive and strong defense on far less resources, and we have other young families to serve as well.

  8. We certainly can have a public discussion as recommended by Ms. Wolfe, but let’s make sure we are discussing facts and know the sources. First, I thought the percentage of “60% of our total US budget was for military purposes” didn’t make sense so I went to the Congressional Budget Office and looked at the historical budget data released last month (found here http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43904). It shows outlays for Defense as $670.3 Billion with total outlays of $3.5385 Trillion. That would be about 19%. Why the difference? Well then I thought maybe she misunderstood the data and was only using “discretionary” spending (within which the Defense budget rests). This would make the Defense % higher because it omits outlays for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment, Nutritional Assistance (food stamps), Retirement/Disability, etc., which are about 63% of the total 2012 US budget. So the total “discretionary” only outlays were $1.2852 Trillion, putting defense at 52% of the discretionary budget. I had to go back to 1991 to find a budget that approached 60% discretionary spending.

    I am also a little unsure of the precision of the “military services as the #1 employer of our citizens” statement. According to the Office of Personnel Management there are about 1.6 Million military personnel, but according to Walmart they employ over 2 million people. Maybe they would be #2 employer if they would remove those emplyed outside the US. Regardless, whether the military is #1 or #2, I’m not scared it. I think the military is a fine employer instilling common ideals of hard work, dedication, honor, and loyalty to country.

    Thank you, Mike, for pointing out that military personnel are tax-payers – including social security and medicare. Of course, they “pay” in many other ways as well.

  9. I believe that it is a mistake to arbitrarily cut the military budget just because it is a huge percentage of total expenditures, or because our allies spend considerably less. Obviously there’s waste in the military budget, just like there is in all other departments of government, and that’s what needs to be cut.

    I do not support any cuts that will weaken our country militarily. Because our allies don’t spend enough is a reason for us needing to spend more, not a reason for spending less. We need to be ready for any actions against us by the lunatic leaders of countries like Iran and North Korea. We’ve seen in recent years how involvement in wars in relatively small countries can stress our military. We shouldn’t be worsening our ability to act. And remember that the threat of our strong military is sometimes a deterrent to rogue countries becoming belligerent.

  10. Since you mention Iran, I must mention that there has been a huge amount of propaganda to create a major enemy of Iran. There is an element in U. S. politics and society that is blinded by the pro-Israel messages and enormous amounts of money spent by AIPAC to pay for our defense of Israel. The press translated incorrectly a quotation by Ahmadinejad a few years back and it was picked up by pro-Israel people here in the U. S. and quoted again and again until it came to be believed as true. Iran has a glorious history, culture, and many wonderful people. We should be focusing on diplomatic exchanges and conversations instead of beating the drums for another unnecessary war. If Israel is allowed to violate the UN charter again and again, to have nuclear and other high-tech weapons provided by the US., is it surprising that Iran would seek to have its own defenses?

  11. Arbitrary cuts, as mentioned by Roy and Ron, are designed to “hurt” where there is the most impact to the lower ranking service member and spouse – the cuts are not strategic and don’t address the waste and overspend.

    Cuts aren’t new. Historically, after every major conflict / war, the country has cut its defense – sometimes up to and exceeding 30%. Each time this has happened, we have been pulled into another engagement – and it does stress our military.

    Ron’s point is well-taken. In WWII, a major deterrent to the Japanese for not wanting to do a land invasion was because they were concerned about “a gun being behind every blade of grass.”

    To operate from a position of strength is always the better position – not only militarily but certainly economically…and that is where our citizens need to be open-minded to new ideas in preparation of an economic slow down.

  12. Rebecca, you’re absolutely right about the use of propaganda to convince the sheeple that (fill in the blank) is an immediate threat to our national security. If anyone outside of the beltway can actually define “national security.” What a sad nation we have become by allowing our politicians to continually manipulate us with political rhetoric.

    There was a time in the early days of our nation when Americans talked of supporting the common defense. The question then was how to protect our nation from foreign invasion by any of the major powers. Then solution and the decision resulted in the 2nd Amendment—arm and train the people to defend their own property and communities. Our Founders knew this to be the most effective means having studied for themselves the history of the world and especially the account of Nehemiah from the Bible. Indeed it was true that a nation could effectively defend itself from any invaders with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other.

    As our nation “progressed” (the politically correct term for backsliding) Americans forgot the lessons of world history, especially the Old Testament, and allowed their politicians to change the rhetoric from common defense to national defense. By then we were a nation debating our involvement in world war. Tragically, having altogether forgotten the Wisdom of the Ages and the sound advice from our Founders, we ran to war—WWI and ran again, WWII, and ran again Korea. As we continued running into war after war, our politicians realized a great opportunity was on the horizon if they could convince Americans it was necessary to keep running after war. There was a problem, however standing in their way of building the Great American Empire. In that, our homeland hadn’t yet been invaded. Except for Poncho Via, but he was only a terrorist raiding villages in the south and hardly newsworthy enough to draw national support for continued global warfare.

    During and just after the Vietnam era our politicians realized they had to devise and inject a new term to convince Americans that the threat of global war was still imminent. No longer would our politicians talk of supporting the common defense or even national defense. Instead, they would replace these outmoded terms to justify war as protecting our national interests. But, what were our national interests? What was it exactly that we were sending our soldiers out to die? What interests were they now required to protect? Tragically, Americans allowed their politicians to continue running after war, without ever holding them accountable to the question. Today, you’ll note that while Obama (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) and his administration has destroyed our common defense through excessive and ridiculous gun control legislation. What’s more, he has ramped up the war campaign convincing Americans that war with (fill in the blank) is imminent and we therefore must protect our “national security.”

    Now, I’ll admit I left out more than 200 years of history as it was impossible to include a sufficient amount of relevant facts in this brief post. Even still, in the absence of such facts, the questions and truth remain: Why have we allowed our politicians to change the rhetoric from common defense, to national defense, to national interests, to national security? The answer is propaganda.

    Now, please consider this brief illustration of the effectiveness of propaganda. Consider if you how the sheeple have empowered the six major players to continue our endless pursuit of war. Imagine if you will a sterile room with clean white walls and no windows. Into this room walk a politician, a military general, a defense contractor, and a money lender. Close the door behind them and within five minutes or less, they will exit in agreement that the threat against the nation is indeed imminent and we must go to war with (fill in the blank). Of course, waiting immediately outside is the reporter, who, with the help of the other four will have the entire nation convinced war is indeed imminent and we must go to war with (fill in the blank).

    Now consider the contrast. Imagine the same sterile room with clean white walls and no windows. Only this time, tack the word WAR on the wall next to a world map. Then into this room walk a soldier, a citizen, a small business owner, a grandmother, and a combat veteran. The sign and map are necessary for the topic of war is not likely to arise even after several hours together in the room. After several minutes open the door and ask if they’ve made a decision about war. In a room sterile of propaganda, their response will always be the same, “why?” Years ago, there used to be a preacher waiting immediately outside the door to answer this question by supplying the theories of just war theology and philosophy. The preacher was need to advise the group that war is sometimes necessary but must be motivated by a clear reason and limited in its application and destruction. Sadly, as it has been since 9/11, either the preacher didn’t get the memo or he met the reporter on his way.

    Rebecca, I completely agree with you about the use of propaganda. In that we who alive today—living in Orwell’s nightmare of 1984—find it impossible to know the truth and reality of what’s truly going on in our nation and around the world as it pertains to war.

  13. I know a fair amount about the middle east; I’ve traveled there on business. Although I have never been to Iran I have done business with that country and had one of my staff based there – until late in 1979 when everything changed. Certainly there are many wonderful Iranians; I know some, but they are not running the country.

  14. I went to three sources to find out how much of the total us budget was spent on defense. The council on foreign relations, the Washinton Post and the center on budget and policy priorities.
    All three pegged Defense spending at about 20% of the total U.S. expenditures.
    The post was slightly higher as they included international security assistance.
    I’m assuming that is foreign aid.
    I dug this information from a goggle search.
    Is it wrong? How do we get from 20% to 60%

  15. Will respond as soon as I can organize a documented comment. Thanks!

  16. Dave – see my post at #8. I used the actual numbers from the Congressional Budget Office. It is 19% of the total U.S. budget. There is a link in my post if you’re interested in the CBO’s report regarding the entire U.S. budget.

  17. Thanks Jim:
    I read the CBO’s report. I wanted to get some independent confirmation.
    We got off of topic here but 20% to 60% is a scary proposition.

  18. Dave and Jim – several “independent” studies and reports attempt to include ancillary services and expenditures into “defense” – this may be where Rebecca is getting her 60% number. For those of us who are somewhat involved in this channel of work, a more accurate number would be the 19 – 20% number.

  19. 56.95% of our Discretionary Budget is for Military Costs. This excludes “Homeland” Security. It also excludes military-related programs that are off-budget. I assume that the CIA is not included in Military costs since the CIA is an independent arm of the government that is outside the Dept. of Defense and (at least until recently when a bill was passed to move the drones program into the DoD), there is no accountability to our Congress. My figures are from this website:

    http://nationalpriorities.org/

  20. Here are two other websites that you may wish to explore:

    http://comptroller.defense.gov/Budget.html

    http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/FY2013_Weapons.pdf

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Related:

    Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma made a strong and persuasive argument yesterday during the Senate debates over the U.S. budget that was finally passed early this morning. (BTW, Sen. Murray did an admirable job of shepherding that process through in a highly competent, professional manner.) Sen. Coburn showed chart after chart of wasteful duplications and redundancies in programs and departments within our federal government.

    We could reduce our total discretionary budget significantly if we had better coordination so that most of the redundancies and duplications of programs and departments could be eliminated. Most have no idea what the others are doing even though in many case they just have different names for very similar projects, programs, or objectives. I hope to find a copy of that presentation. If I find it, I will send a link. It was extraordinary. While I value the “earned benefit” programs (Social Security and Medicare), I would love to see a huge reduction in the actual waste.

  21. Since the issue of gun regulation was mentioned as an impediment to providing for the “common defense,” I urge you to take a look at this:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ (Today, Sat. morning, March 23). It changes frequently, so please view and read this asap.

  22. The story about gun deaths is this one:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/22/gun-deaths-us-newtown_n_2935686.html

    Not my idea of “providing for the common defense.”

  23. Rebecca – we need to determine what we are comparing or analyzing – is it total US expenditures or a percentage of Discretionary Spending? For example: let’s say my allowance for buying my wife flowers each week is $25.00 and that my total allowance is $100.00 – 1/4 of my total budget is committed to flowers. Now let’s say that my “secret squirrel fund (which I can do anything with) is $10 – and each week I choose to spend$6 on a special rose for my wife (yes, I am working to get out of the dog house), that means 60% of my discretionary fund goes to flowers. It doesn’t mean I spend 60% of my total funds on roses – make sense.

  24. Did you read my post of 12:34 p.m. today? I understand the difference between “discretionary spending” and “total expenditures.” Please go back and check earlier posts. Thanks!

  25. In post #3 Rebecca Wolf wrote that austerity budgets have nearly driven several European Countries into Bankruptcy.
    Bankruptcy is defind as a person ( or in this case a Country ) who cannot pay it’s bills or meet it’s financial obligations.
    In my opinion these Countries are already bankrupt.The austerity measures were demanded by lenders in exchange for enough money to pay there bills until the austerity measures kick in.
    The only reason the United States with our 17 trillon dallor debt is not yet Bankrupt is because the world money supply is based on the dollar.We just start up the printing presses and kick out a few Billion here and there to tide us over. That worthless money has no goods or sevices to back it up.
    When we increase the money supply without providing value we get inflation. Just one example of what is to come is the price of gas and oil. It has almost doubled in the last 10 years. We fell into a terriable trap and it will take real discipline for many years to get out of this mess.
    Oh, this mess created by both parties who are unwilling to stop blaming each other while we slowly go down the tube.

  26. We certainly have had a stimulus-driven economy which is creating a debt bubble. There is no logic to borrowing your way out of debt – someone eventually has to pay. As a result, DoD and a number of other governmental agencies will need to become more efficient.

    While I will agree that defense could use trimming, it is not the only area. We have to look at total expenditures. And Ms. Wolfe, for the record, I do think DHS is a duplicative service that could be cut.

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