Three Members of Congress came together in an event sponsored by the YG [Young Guns] Network to speak about the impending defense sequestration and the damage it will do to the U.S. national security.

The importance of maintaining a strong national defense while confronting the nation’s spending crisis played a prominent part in their remarks.

Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R–CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and one of the most powerful voices in Washington on national security, noted that President Obama recently took the time to write an op-ed on cybersecurity. Yet on sequestration, an impending national security disaster, the President has been “AWOL.” If Obama would do the same thing on sequestration, “we could get this fixed next week,” McKeon said.

Sequestration, a little-known term outside Washington, will force an indiscriminate, across-the-board cut of more than $500 billion over the next decade to the U.S. military. This is in addition to the $500 billion in cuts already designated. There is bipartisan agreement that these cuts will hollow out the military and cripple readiness.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has stated that sequestration would be “catastrophic,” while General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that “sequestration would pose unacceptable risk” to national security. McKeon noted that the HASC has held five hearings on the impact of sequestration and that “all witnesses agreed that it would be devastating to our military.”

Representative Adam Kinzinger (R–IL), a freshman in the House and an Air Force pilot, reiterated McKeon’s concerns about President Obama’s lack of leadership. He said that it is particularly unconscionable when men and women are placing their lives on the line every day. He pointed out that it is much easier for politicians to “slash defense” than it is to address the real drivers of debt in this country: out-of-control spending and exploding entitlements.

McKeon said that when he arrived in Congress 20 years ago, the federal budget was $1.5 trillion per year. In the last three years, budget deficits have averaged $1.3 trillion to 1.5 trillion a year. McKeon noted that “if we eliminated the whole discretionary budget—everything, take all the spending out of education, research and development, law enforcement, infrastructure, and defense, eliminate it all—we would still be running a deficit of half trillion a year.”

Heritage has found that if entitlement reform is not undertaken, in just a few decades there won’t be any money left at all in the federal budget for defense, and discretionary spending cuts alone will not balance the budget.

Representative Allen West (R–FL) urged President Obama to show leadership on this issue—and quickly—lest he have added to his resume and legacy the “achievement” of crippling the U.S. military. West noted that it costs U.S. taxpayers more if they have to rebuild the military each time after gutting it than if we would have simply provided steady funding over time.

Heritage’s James Carafano, the moderator of the panel, said this lesson was particularly relevant today, since the U.S. dramatically reduced defense spending after the Cold War. Since then, the military has been living off the build-up under Ronald Reagan. Defense increases after 9/11 were largely spent on 11 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not modernization or recapitalizing forces (i.e., new planes, ships, or weapon systems). After 10 years of war, the U.S. military needs to be modernized and not subjected to devastating cuts.

McKeon noted that, despite repeated requests to the White House and the Office of Management and Budget to find out exactly how sequestration will impact the U.S. military, he has not received an adequate response. Administration officials are scheduled to appear next week before the HASC. Let’s hope they provide some insight and transparency into the issue.