U.S. political leaders are facing a crossroads. They can step up and solve the budget impasse, or they can do nothing and let mandated sequestration cuts take effect. The latter course would have grave consequences for the nation.

Lawmakers should keep several things in mind as we hurtle toward the disaster that is sequestration:

  • The defense cuts are arbitrary and have no rationale. The Pentagon has already absorbed huge cuts under former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and another $500 billion directed preemptively by current Secretary Leon Panetta. The wisdom of the Panetta reductions is questionable to begin with, but to force another half-trillion dollars in cuts (nearly half of all the sequestration cuts) onto defense with no strategic analysis smacks of an arbitrary disregard for the defense of the nation.
  • The threats we face are too grave to unilaterally disarm. To those who claim that the war on terrorism is over, who somehow see the world as already safe, gutting defense readiness (always a convenient, if ill-conceived, target) seems to be a no-brainer. Anyone without the rose-colored glasses of this Administration sees a troubled world still filled with hostile adversaries who are actually growing in capability at the same time sequestration would tie the hands of the U.S.
  • Defense is being held hostage by entitlement spending. Sadly, U.S. readiness is seemingly being held hostage by those who want to raise taxes to protect their pet projects and entitlement programs. Some have even admitted that they think further cuts to defense are actually a good thing. Nearly everyone agrees that the “hostage” of defense spending needs to be saved, but a select few seem to be willing to kill the hostage, and then call that a victory.
  • Raising taxes is not the answer. Defense has to be protected from the draconian and mechanistic cuts of sequestration—but not by compromising on taxes. A compromise that includes new taxes—and no, calling them “revenues” or “loophole closures” does not change what they really are—is not a solution.

Congress has all the tools available today to agree on a real budget. It needs no new devices but only the will to do so.

The ideal solution is for the Administration and Congress to solve the budget impasse today—not later, not during the lame-duck session, and not during the next Administration. If that cannot be done, another solution would be to repeal the Budget Control Act altogether and remove the gun to the hostage’s head.

Another alternative could be to hold defense spending harmless from sequestration this year through spending offsets—not tax hikes. This would give the next Congress and President a chance to solve the budget crisis over the longer term.

If certain Members of Congress want new taxes, they should make their case and win the votes. If they feel that defense should be cut, they should do the same. But to do nothing and allow either eventuality to occur by default is an abrogation of responsibility.

The nation’s leaders need to step forward and do the right thing. Gambling with the readiness and security of America is not leadership; it is exactly the opposite.