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A sequestered defense budget would break the back of our armed forces, jeopardize America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear attack, and might force a return to the draft.

So says a white paper prepared by the staff of the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.

“Sequestration” is a mechanism Congress can use to dodge the hard work of deciding what programs to cut. Under a sequestered budget, every government program gets cut equally to meet spending cap. So far, Congress hasn’t used it – but under the Budget Control Act that President Obama signed into law Aug. 8, sequestration will kick in automatically in January 2013 unless Congress acts before Dec. 23, 2011, to cut spending by $1.2 trillion within 10 years.

If Congress fails to decide what to cut by Dec. 23 – or cuts less than $1.2 trillion – every government program gets slashed equally to make up the difference.

The House Armed Services staff analyzed what an anticipated 18 percent cut would mean to the half-trillion-dollar annual defense budget – which already faces $465 billion in cuts over the next decade.

“Deeper cuts to our military, which has already endured the largest share of cuts, would be irresponsible,” the staff report states.

As a percentage of the federal government’s total budget authority, under sequestration, military spending would fall to its lowest level since before World War II.

Some 200,000 soldiers and Marines would be out of a job and would exacerbate the unemployment problem, the report states. While the nation’s unemployment rate is 9 percent, the current rate is 22 percent for young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and 41 percent for wounded veterans. The Navy and Air Force, already below pre-9/11 levels, would also see further force reductions.

“(The) resultant force structure (would be) insufficient to decisively win an engagement in one theater while defending vital national interests in another,” the report states.

It would threaten America’s ability to “respond to potential contingencies in North Korea and Iran” and adequately defend Israel, Taiwan and deployed U.S. troops, it states.

“With a hollow force akin to the Carter era,” the report continues, “defending our freedom will be harder and cost more in terms of both blood and treasure.”

The Navy would likely mothball more than 60 ships including two carrier groups, “while we give up nearly a third of Army maneuver battalions and Air Force fighters, a quarter of our bombers, and jeopardize our ability to defend America against a nuclear attack.”

The report anticipates a “threefold effect” on America’s nuclear deterrent: “(1) we will have less early warning about a nuclear missile launch; (2) for the first time in seven decades, allies and adversaries will question our ability to provide a nuclear response to an attack; and (3) our ability to defend against incoming missile attack against the United States will be degraded.”

The report also predicts an all-volunteer military would be unsustainable if troops “vote with their feet and leave the force” if the cuts take a bite out of health care and retirement, and if the force reduction leads to longer and more frequent deployments for those who remain.

Said McKeon: “To try to break the back of the recession on the backs of the military means – who will have our back the next time we’re attacked?”

McKeon is scheduled to discuss the defense budget Sunday at 10 a.m. Eastern on C-SPAN, repeating at 6 p.m Eastern (7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Pacific).

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