Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates ripped Washington on Thursday over sequestration budget caps, saying Congress’ inability to reach a budget compromise was causing “grave damage” to the US military, homeland security and other essential government operations.
“The most illustrative and appalling example of Congress’ abdication of responsibility is sequestration,” Gates said during an intelligence and national security forum hosted by SAP National Security Services here. “If there is a more stupid way to cut the federal budget, I am unable to imagine it.”
The biggest threat to US national security, he said, is “the political dysfunction that has led to defense cuts and military unreadiness.”
Sequestration happened because congressional Republicans and Democrats, and the White House, failed to reach a deficit-reduction package in 2011 amid differences over issues like new tax revenues and domestic entitlement programs. Gates said using defense cuts to balance the national deficit is impossible without badly weakening the military.
“Those cuts translate directly into decreased readiness and technological superiority for the United States military,” Gates said, adding later: “When we must cut the most important things we do at the same rate as the dumbest, bad things result.”
He said his faint hope was that the “remaining adults” in Congress would compromise on a budget deal.
Gates’ stinging, if familiar, criticism of Congress landed on both sides of the aisle, “deficit hawks and isolationists” on the right, and “old-school liberals” on the left.
Gates exempted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, whom he said recommended a responsible mix of military compensation reform, force structure reductions and base consolidation to balance the cuts. Then he teed off on Congress for rejecting these measures.
“The Congress has forced the Pentagon to the worst of all positions, first deeply cutting the budget and refusing to make the compromises to restore funding, and then preventing the Defense Department from implementing the reforms and reductions in overhead cost,” Gates said.