OP-ED | Sequestration Cuts Won’t Solve Washington’s Spending Problem

Spend a little time in Washington, D.C., and you’d be hard pressed to see any evidence of the economic doldrums that have plagued the rest of the nation over the last several years. While the greater United States contends with slow growth and high unemployment, the nation’s capital is now the wealthiest metropolitan area in the nation.

That’s according to a recent analysis by 24/7 Wall Street. The typical household in the Washington metro area, which includes the District of Columbia along with suburbs of eastern Maryland and northern Virginia, brings home $86,680 each year—71 percent higher than the $50,502 per year national median. These days, even the technology barons of Silicon Valley take a backseat to our privileged government class.

This is not what a healthy society looks like. Compare the United States in the 21st century to the Roman Empire in its declining years, and the parallels are alarming. In Rome, those who lived in and around the capital city and moved among the emperor and the ruling class lived in high style. The further citizens and subjects lived from Rome, the harder it became.

That’s why the recent debate over sequestration, which delivers sharp cuts to federal spending, especially in the defense budget, seems like just what we needed. After all, if the Washington, D.C., metro area is getting rich off the rest of America while running up massive amounts of spending and debt, it’s time to rein them in, right?

Well, not exactly. There’s no question we need to put the brakes on the runaway spending train in the nation’s capital, and there’s no question the nation’s current $16.5 trillion debt load is unsustainable. But the planned cuts under sequestration, which began March 1, are the wrong way to go about bringing fiscal discipline to Washington.

The problem with the sequester, which reduces defense by some $500 billion over the next decade (along with other cuts in discretionary spending), is that it’s a “meat ax” approach to budget cutting. Rather than looking at our strategic threats and priorities and adjusting the budget accordingly, the sequester imposes steep cuts and demands that our military leaders adjust the budget based on the funding that’s left.

Sure, with combat operations completed in Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, we should expect to see some reduction in defense spending. Yet to cut too deeply into the “muscle” of our national security investment will leave the United States and our allies around the world vulnerable to threats like Iran, North Korea or even China.

Worse yet, the cuts under sequestration, while reducing our investment in strategic defense priorities, would do little to reduce the deficit and nothing to reduce the debt. The only way to actually bring down spending and get a handle on our runaway debt is by reforming our entitlement programs, principally Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Millions of Americans rely on these programs that are structurally unsound. Medicare will be out of money in 11 years on its current spending track, according to a report from the Medicare board of trustees; Social Security will be broke in 20 years, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Yet when it comes to reform, these unsustainable programs have been labeled “untouchable” by the president and his congressional allies—even though reducing spending in entitlements is the only path back to fiscal sanity. Why? Because without reform today, Social Security and Medicare will be unable to meet the needs of future beneficiaries. Reforming entitlements isn’t just good fiscal sense—it’s also the only way to ensure these programs survive for future generations.

Sadly, however, instead of having this common sense discussion, Washington has elected to slash defense spending, reducing our force readiness and leaving our military weaker while the world grows more dangerous.

Our imperial governing class probably doesn’t want to hear this message. They want to keep feeding at the trough of federal spending, piling up debt and imperiling our nation’s future while the nation’s capital milks the cash cow that is the American taxpayer. Yet whether the sequestration goes into effect or not, we’ll still have a dangerous spending problem—and we’ll still be at risk for a serious budget reckoning in the near future.

Originally published in The Washington Times


OP-ED | So When Are Women Joining the NFL?

Should the National Football League allow women on the playing field? After all, they can kick and carry a ball, and professional football is one industry in which women are sorely under-represented, to say the least.

It’s not that likely to happen, is it?

The reality is Americans would be horrified to see a 220-pound strong safety drive over a female wide receiver running toward the goal line. There’s simply too great a disparity in body mass and strength between NFL players and women, and the physical demands are too great.

Amazingly, what is common sense on the football field has now been completely abandoned on the battlefield.

With the Pentagon’s recent announcement that combat positions will be open to women, we see the latest misguided effort to achieve “equality” where it cannot be achieved—and it may cost military women in the long run.

Women have long served in support of combat missions, frequently near the front lines. As a woman and a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, I know first-hand how difficult combat field operations are.

I carried in excess of 100 pounds of gear over difficult terrain for 10-15 mile marches throughout my 20-year career. This was done only with an M-16 rifle or pistol, not with the additional ammunition or heavier weapons our ground units carry. The fatigue was extreme and it was difficult to imagine how an infantryman overcame the difficulty of field movement for weeks or months at a time.

Under current policy, women in the Marine Corps are held to a less-rigorous physical standard due to the obvious physical differences. It’s a physiological fact that women have less upper body strength compared to men—yet the physical demands of combat won’t change.

Currently, women have higher rates of discharge for medical disability that prevents them from finishing their enlistment, or re-enlistment. Stress and muscular deterioration in women comes on faster and harder due to the heavy gear and physical duress in the field environment.

Muscle atrophy, hip displacement, and arthritis in knees and joints are common ailments. Spinal compression occurs from long periods of heavy combat loads.

This is the hard reality of how extended field time and intense physical standards take their toll. Women’s bodies simply aren’t designed for the fatigue of field operations with heavy field gear and weapons on less muscular body frames. (For an example, read this eye-opening article by Captain Katie Petronio, who details the long-term physical damage she endured supporting Marine Corps infantry as a combat engineer).

Sure, a small number of women will meet the requirements and complete training. How will combat units adjust for these statistical outliers? What is reasonable accommodation when it comes to showering or relieving oneself?

Even our civilian society allows for non-compliance when an accommodation requires unreasonable demands upon the employer. (The elephant in the room in the question of sexual abuse, which is already a seriously and heavily-documented problem in the services; it’s hard to imagine how this new policy won’t exacerbate that problem.)

The bitter irony is that the long-term effect of this policy, which is intended to open up avenues for higher promotion to women, could result in fewer military opportunities for women.

If this is about promotional opportunity (and there are female generals in fields outside of combat arms, by the way), then each field should be evaluated to ensure promotional opportunity is balanced fairly for women. This is a more practical adjustment than to simply remove restrictions. Women are often promoted faster than men in the fields they are assigned.

Are we setting a woman up for failure by placing her into a field that will likely cause her body to deteriorate to a point where further service is impossible? Even if a female can get through Infantry Officers’ Course, which has a single physical standard for both men and women — and a 25% male drop-out rate — how long can her body meet the demands of the extreme training?

The odds are remote that any woman in a combat position will make it 20 years to see the opportunity to retire, let alone be considered for the rank of general officer.

Many of the advocates of this policy had support roles that never required them to sleep in mud, bathe without privacy and relieve themselves in the open.

It’s alarming that women from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, former officers who flew planes, or a few females who supported infantry for a few months as Female Engagement Teams in Iraq, have adopted a shallow “You go, girl!” mindset. These advocates, to say nothing of the media cheerleaders and others who have never served and are now celebrating this policy; have never met the rigorous requirements of the infantry themselves.

There is zero evidence this new policy will enhance combat readiness. The attitude that all military opportunities must be equal — held by those who have misconceptions about the realities of long combat operations — demonstrates how few people understand what the mission of our infantry truly requires.

TV Appearances

Fox & Friends | Women In Combat w/ Jessie Jane Duff, 26 JAN 2013

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lift the ban women serving in combat positions in the United States Military. USMC Veteran Jessie Jane Duff joins Army Veteran Donna McAleer on Fox & Friends to discuss.

Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff served 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and is on the advisory committee for Concerned Veterans for America.


The Honeymoon’s Over: Debt Ceiling Nears Limit

Last week, while we were all consumed with the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy and the final days of the 2012 campaign, the U.S. Department of Treasury issued a quiet warning that the U.S. was about to hit the debt ceiling. Don’t feel bad about missing this news—it was buried at the bottom of a Treasury news release.

Treasury continues to expect the debt limit to be reached near the end of 2012. However, Treasury has the authority to take certain extraordinary measures to give Congress more time to act to ensure we are able to meet the legal obligations of the United States of America. We continue to expect that these extraordinary measures would provide sufficient “headroom” under the debt limit to allow the government to continue to meet its obligations until early in 2013.

You recall that in August 2011, Democrats and Republicans in Washington finally overcame a bitter stalemate on the debt ceiling, raising the legal limit to $16.394 trillion. According to Treasury, we’re now in line to top that limit by the end of this year—meaning it will take only about 16 months of spending for our government to reach the limit.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is unequivocal that the debt ceiling will be raised again, and he indicates it should be done without debate. CNS News reports:

“I think the debt ceiling will come after the first of the year,” Reid said. “But please everyone accept this: They tried it before—they, the Republicans.”

“They tried it before – ‘We’re going to shut down the government, and we’re not going to raise the debt ceiling,’” he said. “If they want to go through that again, fine.”

“But we’re not going to be held subject to something that was done as a matter of fact in all previous administrations,” Reid said. then asked, “But will you support raising it by another $2.4 trillion?”

“If it has to be raised, we’ll raise it,” he said.

Keep in mind that with the planned automatic spending cuts slated for January under “sequestration,” $500 billion of which will come from the defense budget, we still won’t reduce the debt. We’ll only slow the rate of growth in the deficit for a few years. So, not only will we get a complete lack of smart, targeted spending reform that we need—we’ll increase our debt levels while we diminish our defense capabilities with these “meat ax” cuts.

It’s a monumental failure of governance, but amazingly this was barely an issue in the 2012 campaign. Where’s the leadership?


ELECTION 2012: The Cratering Military Vote

If you need more evidence that military voting rights are eroding before our eyes, look no further than the Commonwealth of Virginia, where absentee ballot requests by military personnel have dropped an astonishing 70 percent from 2008.

That’s the word from an extensive report in the Virginia Watchdog that focused on data provided by Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project. The report finds that out of more than 126,000 registered military voters in Virginia, a paltry 1,746 have requested absentee ballots. The Watchdog reports:

The dropoff is ironic, considering that Congress passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) in 2009 to help highly transient military voters obtain absentee ballots wherever they are stationed.

“The fact is that an incredibly small percentage of military voters are requesting absentee ballots for the 2012 election, even though a majority of military members — roughly two-thirds — will need to vote by absentee ballot,” [Eric Eversole of the MVP Project] said.

Eversole acknowledged that personal responsibility figures into the equation, but he said service members aren’t getting the same voter-assistance and access that civilians receive through motor-vehicle offices and social-service agencies.

“We’re not seeing the same level of emphasis [on military voting] that we saw four years ago,” Eversole told Virginia Watchdog.

It’s not just Virginia: the MVP project notes that military absentee ballot requests are down in Florida (46 percent decrease); North Carolina (59 percent decrease); Alaska (52 percent decrease); and Ohio (70 percent decrease).

Eversole lays the blame on the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), the Department of Defense (DoD) program responsible for ensuring that military personnel have access to reliable information about their voting rights. But as we’ve seen recently, that information isn’t necessarily reliable—just last week I wrote about the scandal of an FVAP web page for Wisconsin that listed the wrong deadline for returning ballots.

In this Fox News report, a DoD spokesperson defends the department’s performance on military voting rights, arguing that the 2008 numbers were higher because of contested primaries on both the Republican and Democratic sides. That may be true, but it can hardly be expected to account for declines of up to 70 percent. (Moreover, there’s far more at stake than just the White House; we also have heated Senate and House races and any number of state and local offices up for grabs.)

The DoD spokesperson also notes that total voting numbers won’t be available until after the election. Well, yes, obviously. But that smokescreen doesn’t change the fact that far too many of our uniformed service personnel simply will not be voting in the 2012 election—and after the election, there will be little incentive for the FVAP to get its act together. Don’t be surprised when we’re having this same discussion during the 2014 midterm election.

We’ve had plenty of warnings that military voters were on the verge of a massive disenfranchisement. The House Armed Services Committee was so alarmed about the FVAP’s failure to implement MOVE Act provisions that they called the program to account in a hearing last month; meanwhile, the MVP Project has been reporting for months that the outlook for military voting in this election year was “bleak.”

The MVP Project’s forecast is coming true in Virginia, Florida, Alaska, North Carolina and Ohio—and most likely in other states as well. In this year’s election, the voice of military voters and their families, who bear a disproportionately high cost for decisions made in Washington, will go unheard.


Federal Vote Help Site Gets Ballot Deadlines Wrong

For service personnel from the Badger State who might have been trying to determine when their absentee ballots would be due, the incorrect date of November 16 would, of course, have ensured that their votes would not have counted.

This isn’t the first time we’ve found problems at the FVAP, nor will it be the last. Earlier this month, FVAP officials testified before Congress about progress in implementing the 2009 Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The testimony offered little insight, as DoD officials largely dodged the questions. Three years later, key provisions of the MOVE Act still have not been put into place. As a result, the Military Voter Protection (MVP) Project is forecasting a “bleak” outlook for military voting in this year’s election.

The insanity goes without any logic or reason. How can absentee ballot requests for active duty military and overseas voters go down for the same time period in 2012 as 2008? The Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act, created to increase military and overseas voter participation, was passed in 2009. The drop in absentee ballot requests demonstrates that Department of Defense’s failure to establish voting assistance centers on over half of the installations overseas has severely impacted our servicemembers abilities to register to vote.

The FVAP official proudly testified that they created a electronic system that enables military to register through their FVAP website. But their electronic gadgets were NOT required by the law. The voting assistance centers are a requirement to the federal law and the purpose of the hearing. FVAP failed to implement a simple and inexpensive means to ensure all active duty military stationed overseas were able to register to vote when they transferred into a new duty station.

For an agency tasked with providing “assistance to facilitate [service members] participation in the democratic process—regardless of where they work or live,” the FVAP is not inspiring a great deal of confidence in its ability to deliver on its mission.

Given the careful attention being paid to our government’s failures to protect military personnel’s voting rights, you might think the FVAP could at least get the deadline dates right on their website. No such luck—and now another year will pass without significant progress on ensuring our service personnel’s right to participate in our democracy.

Instead, the budget for FVAP has been over 30 million for the past 3 years, including 46 million in 2011. Those tax payers dollars were squandered away on electronic systems FVAP officials gloated about, but failed to increase voter registration for those who defend our nations freedom.

This stuff should be easy. For crying out loud – if they can’t keep track of 50 state secretaries’ of state deadlines, how are we ever going to get through the crises this winter?


Contact Your Local Election Official Today

In 2009, Congress enacted the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) which now requires every state to mail out absentee ballots to military and overseas voters 45 days prior to any primary or general election for Federal office.

Your local election official (LEO) must have absentee ballots printed and ready to mail by Saturday, September 22, so that military personnel from your community will be able to vote in the November 6 general election regardless of where the service of our country has taken them. Unfortunately, the fact that this is required by federal law does not necessarily mean that it is going to happen.

According to Military Voter Protection Project, in 2010 mid-term election, 15 states requested waivers from DOD to the 45 day deadline. The waiver in New York state allowed ballots to be mailed by October 1, 2010 (32 days before the election). New York missed this deadline and sent ballots on October 12, 2010, only 3 weeks left until the election, causing 43,000 military and overseas voters to be affected. Similarly, at least 35 counties in Illinois failed to meet the 45 day deadline and waited until October 5 or later to mail absentee ballots. This clearly demonstrates there is little concern in many states that our active duty military is still the most disenfranchised voting group in the United States today.

There are more than 7,500 local election offices administering absentee voting for federal elections, and many of them are ignorant of their obligations under federal law. September 22 is this Saturday. Please contact your LEO (County Clerk, etc.) and the LEOs for several nearby counties or municipalities and find out if the ballots were mailed out on time. Remind the LEO of the requirement to mail ballots is by September 22. Check back on Monday, September 24, to determine if the ballots have been mailed.

The passing of the MOVE Act amended the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). UOCAVA voters are active duty service members and their voting age family members, whether within or outside the United States, as well as U.S. citizens outside our country. Please note that the requirement to send out ballots not later than September 22 applies to active duty service members who are currently serving within the United States, as well as those who are in places like Afghanistan.

Please report to Concerned Veterans for America if you discover ballots by your LEO have not been mailed on time. We’d like to know who isn’t defending the right to vote for our men and women in uniform.


Disappointing Outcome On Today’s Armed Services Committee Hearing On Federal Voting Assistance Program

Arlington, VA – Today, the House Armed Services Committee took a small step to confront the challenges military personnel face in obtaining or submitting an absentee ballot by conducting a hearing focused on the DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance program. Unfortunately, despite direct questions from the members, no answers were forthcoming as to why reforms mandated by Congress had not taken place.

Jessie Jane Duff, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC (Ret) said the following:

“I was very disappointed. There was no answer to the $64,000 question—has DoD fully implemented the reforms mandated by the 2009 MOVE Act? Even when asked directly, DoD’s representatives dodged the question.

“What we heard was the same old finger pointing that allows the military to remain the most disenfranchised voting group in the United States today.

“Our leaders in Washington face big challenges with the $16 trillion national debt, runaway spending and a struggling economy. Compared to those problems, this one should be an easy fix (to say nothing of the right thing to do). All they have to do is set up an office and add a piece of paper to the pile when a servicemember checks in. If they can’t manage to get their heads around this, what hope is there on the national debt?”

What’s the issue? Here are the numbers:

As of August 2012, a survey of several states showed that in most of the states fewer than 10 percent of military voters had requested ballots, according to a recent report from the Military Voters Protection (MVP) Project.
As of August, in Virginia and North Carolina, only 1.4 and 1.7 percent of military voters had requested ballots.
As of today, North Carolina is still behind the 2008 pace – this after four years of supposed reforms and millions of dollars spent.
A 2012 Department of Defense IG investigation was able to reach fewer than half of the voting assistance offices mandated by the MOVE Act.  Congress appropriated $46 million for voting assistance activities in 2011 alone.


Don’t Cut Guard, Reserve Drill Pay

Are you starting to get the feeling that no one in Washington is serious about looking out for our uniformed military personnel? Recent budget talks about cuts to veterans programs and military pay leave me dismayed.

In recent months, we’ve seen repeated indications that the Obama administration is prepared to get tough and cut spending—that is, only so long as they can cut spending on defense and military priorities, while allowing the rest of the federal budget to continue growing by leaps and bounds.

We’ve seen it with the Pentagon’s push for higher fees on veterans covered under the Tricare system (while the administration leaves Medicare and Social Security spending untouched). We’ve seen it with the push for “early outs,” forcing uniformed personnel to leave the service—while allowing the civilian bureaucracy to grow unchecked.

Here’s Washington’s latest assault on our military personnel: the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation has recommended that National Guard and Reserve drill pay for training days be slashed in half.

The QRMC’s stated goal is to reduce complexity in the reserve and guard pay system. That’s a worthwhile goal—but not if it comes at the expense of force readiness or creates a disincentive for men and women to serve. Those are precisely the effects that slashing drill pay would have on the services. (You can read the full QRMC report here in PDF format.)

The National Guard Association of the United States has raised the alarm over this attack on our service members. I encourage you to visit the NGAUS website to learn more and how you can get involved to stop these assaults on our military.