The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

An important deadline in the suicidal march toward deep forced cuts in the Department of Defense that could reduce the nation’s military preparedness while killing jobs here at home passed unmet on Friday.

The White House budget office failed to produce its report on the effects of sequestration — which includes an 11 percent across the board cut in the Pentagon budget. The report was required by the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 . Sequestration is expected to trim $1.2 trillion from the budget from 2013 to 2023. About $500 billion of that would come from national defense.

Politicians in Washington, defense contractors and leaders in communities like the Quad-Cities have been anxiously awaiting the president’s report.

GOP officials and other critics of sequestration’, including U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, were quick to blast the White House for missing the deadline. And indeed the administration deserves some grief. It is not the first time President Obama and his advisors have failed to make deadlines for delivering bad news.

We can’t blame President Obama’s Democrat staff advisors for not wanting to release the awful details during their party’s convention. But ignoring or delaying the bad news doesn’t make it go away.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that we’re happy to grasp at any straw that might provide even a slim hope that the Rock Island Arsenal and other installations will be spared deep wounds that have no basis in merit.

Consider, for example, defense cuts alone. Even without the president’s report, our leaders have some idea of the damage sequestration will do to the Arsenal. A report from The Center for Security Policy Standards, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that about $31 million in federal contracts for Quad-Cities businesses would be eliminated if sequestration goes into effect ( Tim Frye, of the Rock Island Arsenal Development Group, says the cuts would be “devastating to Rock Island Arsenal.” That devastation would be felt throughout our community.

The deadline for avoiding sequestration cuts is Jan. 2, 2013 and there seems little, if any, hope that Congress could or would create a budget-cutting plan before then that would end the need for across-the-board cuts. November’s election looms too large. And even if politics could be set aside after the election has passed, the issue is too complex and important to tackle intelligently in such a short window.

So it would seem that our hope rests in rumors out of Washington that when Congress meets next week, lawmakers will use the business of approving a continuing resolution to keep the government open beyond the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30 to add an amendment delaying the sequestration deadline. Moving both deadlines would give leaders left standing after Nov. 6 more post-election months to get the job done.

It makes political sense for lawmakers who wish to keep their seats to back such a delay. But it also makes sense for the nation to ensure that our fiscal future isn’t decided in an emotionally charged election-clouded fall. Of course, that doesn’t mean would-be leaders are off the hook. Candidates running for president and everyone in or running for Congress should pledge to meet around the clock starting the week after the inauguration to achieve a realistic fiscal plan before the nation’s grade schools break for the summer, say May 31.

Voters should also demand that candidates and incumbents develop a list of 10 specific actions they would take to begin to set the federal fiscal house in order by the end of 2014. Candidates also should commit to that May 31 deadline for preparing a 10-year plan that will begin immediately and be fully underway by 2014.

We’ll seek those pledges and ask candidates for their list of solutions and share their answers with you.

There is much at stake. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would be like “shooting ourselves in the head.” There’s plenty of irony in the fact that Congress and this president put the gun to their own temples by approving legislation making sequestration the penalty for the inability to draft a sensible and less dangerous budget-balancing plan.

Now the only wise path left us appears to be to remove the bullets (sequestration) for now, then commit to make the tough choices necessary to ensure that the sequestration gun is never reloaded.

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