Well, here we are two weeks into the dreaded sequester, 1.2 trillion dollars in discretionary spending cuts with 85 billion set to be slashed just this year. DoD takes the biggest hit at 46 billion in cuts for 2013. While national security is adversely affected due to a reduction in training and military readiness, military (read: middle class) families are also bearing the burden of the sequester. Contrary to popular belief, the sequester does affect uniformed members of the military. Here are three (although not the only) ways the sequester affects military families.
1. Title 32 Furloughs: The biggest myth about the sequester is that it doesn’t affect “active duty military”. The truth is, there is at least a small portion of the military that is nearly indistinguishable from “active duty” but is considered “civilian”. Title 32 of the United States Code, regarding the National Guard, provides that some employees with military experience are considered civilian employees, even though they wear a uniform. These hourly employees wear uniform and rank to work everyday, but are not technically considered “active duty”. Consequently, they are included among the litany of furloughs set to begin in April. This is a full time military job for most, and they stand to lose up to 50% of their hours and pay. About 500 title 32 Airmen from the 125th Fighter Wing at the Jacksonville Air National Guard base are slated to be furloughed starting in April. That’s 500 uniformed Airmen at just one base in Florida.
2. Tuition Assistance: Tuition Assistance is a program that provides active duty personnel with up to 4,500 dollars per year for college credit. While I was in the military, most of my fellow Marines were taking at least a few courses while performing their normal duties. Education is highly valued in the military; in fact, following John Kerry’s unfortunate 2006 comments, it has been widely noted that the military is more highly educated than the U.S. population. The Air Force and the Army spent a combined 571 million dollars on TA in FY 2012. The Army, Air Force, and Marines have suspended all new TA applications for the remainder of 2013. This is the kind of thing that can cause retention problems for the military. Troops may choose to leave the military and take advantage of their excellent Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to finish their educations. Truth be told, TA is actually a better deal for the federal government than the GI Bill. Troops utilizing TA are still acting as infantrymen, mechanics, or hundreds of other roles while pursuing their educations. The military reaps the rewards of a better educated force, instead of suffering the brain drain that can be a result of college bound troops leaving the ranks.
3. Military Schools: Education for military children is also on the chopping block.
“Many local school districts across the United States include within their boundaries parcels of land that are owned by the Federal Government or that have been removed from the local tax rolls by the Federal Government, including Indian lands. These school districts face special challenges — they must provide a quality education to the children living on the Indian and other Federal lands and meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, while sometimes operating with less local revenue than is available to other school districts, because the Federal property is exempt from local property taxes.”
These schools receive a type of federal funding called “Impact Aid” to make up for the budget shortfall. Unfortunately, Impact Aid is also being reduced by the sequester. Members of the military have little to no choice where their children attend school; their options are limited by school districts in which they happen to be stationed. It’s quite likely that where ever they go their school district will be feeling the pain from the sequester.
After sequestration became a part of the 2011 debt deal struck between Obama and the Republican lead House, superintendents of military school districts began to plan for potential cuts in Impact Aid funding. Now that sequestration is here, those plans are being enacted to the detriment of America’s military children.
It’s worth noting that the sequester was intended to be bad policy. Both the president and house republicans know that in the current political climate, nothing gets done unless unless lawmakers are facing some sort of crisis. The idea here was that republicans would be willing to agree to some tax increases in order protect defense spending. Obama was expected to make some hard choices regarding, among others, Social Security and Medicaid in order to protect some other social programs such as unemployment and welfare.
As it turns out, republicans seem to value low taxes for the wealthy over national security. While the president has been willing to address social programs, republicans have refused any tax increases as a means of ending the sequester. Based on recent history, Obama was probably right to assume that republicans would be willing accept some tax increases as a means to protect defense spending. At this point, however, it’s hard telling whether republican priorities have stayed the same since then, or if they have shifted dramatically to the right on fiscal issues. Whatever the analysis, it seems clear that the current number one issue for republicans is a tax policy that protects the uber wealthy.