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GUEST COLUMN

White House, Congress failing to live up to their responsibilities

According to dictionary.com, a popular definition of sequestration is removal or separation. Although the term sequestration is being bandied about in relation to massive defense cuts that threaten our nation's military readiness, I prefer the term "divorce," because that is exactly what our elected leaders are doing with the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold.

While there are many important issues for candidates to address during this campaign season, the bottom line is that our country is facing an economic and readiness disaster if the cuts kick in Jan. 2. It should shock no one that the organization that I lead, the American Legion, strongly opposes any defense cuts.

But did you know that even without sequestration, the U.S. military is already being cut by $487 billion over the next decade? Sequestration would bring the total to well over $1 trillion.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called the prospect, which will occur if Congress and the president can't find other ways to reduce the deficit, "...a crazy doomsday scenario."

The nation's top soldier, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, was more specific. "The two things that are alarming to us is one, the magnitude, second, the mechanism," he told Congress last winter when the likelihood of this disaster seemed far more remote.

"It's coming out of three places and that's it," Dempsey said of the looming cuts. "It's coming out of equipment and modernization, that's one. It's coming out of maintenance and it's coming out of training. And then, we've hollowed out the force."

Now, if pundits and polls are to be believed, a "hollowed military force" is not the top issue driving voters this year. It's the economy. Again, sequestration has a disastrous effect.

So much so that a George Mason University analysis estimates that the trickle-down effect of sequestration would cause the loss of 2.1 million jobs nationwide and add 1.5 percentage points to the current unemployment rate.

Even worse, would be the likelihood that our heroes - the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States - would be more vulnerable because of fewer resources and training opportunities.

"Sequestration would severely impact our ability to maintain the same level of readiness," Lieutenant Colonel Matt Morgan, a spokesman for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, recently told Reuters News Service. "If we have fewer platoons then we have less capacity to respond, and commanders would have to look at where they would accept risks."

And the risk caused by military drawdowns can cost American lives, as we have seen during the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt of 1980 and Task Force Smith during the Korean War. More recently we have seen deadly violence inflicted against Americans in Libya and other dangerous areas of the world.

Yet, defense spending, as a percentage of total federal expenditures, is approaching historic lows not seen since before World War II. Moreover, the U.S. military has been at war for 11 years, causing equipment shortages and the extension of existing equipment to well beyond its useful life span.

The American Legion is strictly non-partisan. We are made up of 2.4 million wartime U.S. military veterans, and include Democrats, Republicans and independents in our ranks. We are not interested in scoring political points against the president, Congress or leaders of either of the two major parties.

While there is plenty of blame to go around as to who caused the current deficit crisis, it is certain that it is not the soldier or the veteran that created this mess. And it should not be our men and women in uniform who must pay the price.

On Oct. 1, Defense Secretary Panetta spoke to a group of military and veterans organizations that included the American Legion. "We must be able to deal with every threat out there," he told us. We couldn't agree more. And that threat includes budgetary shenanigans that can seriously jeopardize our national security.

We call on all Americans to put our elected leaders on notice: Fix it now.

- James E. Koutz of Boonville, Ind. is national commander of the American Legion (www.legion.org).

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