Kay Hagan, the Democratic senator from North Carolina, has joined with Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., in introducing an amendment to the Continuing Resolution that would reinstate the tuition assistance program to members of the U.S. Armed services.
A quick primer before we comment on this bill.
As many of you many know from reading The Mount Airy News and seeing other media accounts, when Congress and the president were not able to agree on a long-term budget plan, a program called sequestration took effect. That program was adopted as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which gave the parties until the end of 2012 to come up with a way to trim the federal deficit or a series of automatic spending cuts — known as sequestration — would kick in.
Congress and the president managed to delay implementation of sequestration several times, but on March 1 the cuts began taking place, eliminating funding to virtually all federal government departments. There are exemptions to the cuts — so-called pay as you go programs such as Medicare, spending on critical mission necessary portions of the national defense budget, and interestingly the salaries of Congress and the president.
However, significant cuts are made to most federal agencies, including each branch of the military. In order to meet those cuts, the Army, Air Force, and Marines have elected to suspend the tuition assistance program offered to their enlistees.
Of course, the idea that members of the military can get a free, or greatly reduced, college education as part of their service in the military is a major recruiting tool, and a reason a fair number of soldiers enlist. Now these three branches of the military are cutting those benefits to conform to the budgetary constraints put in place by sequestration.
Congress has hammered out what is called a Continuing Resolution, which is essentially a budget bill that supplies enough money to the federal government to keep operating, albeit on a limited basis, while a more permanent spending bill is adopted.
Hagan is supporting this amendment to the Continuing Resolution because, she said, those serving our military deserve the opportunity to pursue a college education, even at taxpayer expense, for the sacrifices they and their families encounter while they are in service.
We agree in principle, and believe Hagan’s heart is in the right place, but this amendment should be rejected.
That’s not to say we are opposed to military personnel getting this benefit — we are most assuredly not. However, the idea behind sequestration was to force Congress and the president to enact a responsible budget, something that hasn’t been done in 12 years, a budget that squarely takes aim at reducing the national deficit.
If Congress, or the president, can simply wave away part of sequestration by introducing a bill, then the whole process is a farce.
No, this amendment should be defeated, as should all such amendments. Federal government departments need to be forced to deal with the automatic cuts as they occur. Perhaps when the pain of those cuts becomes too great to bear, Congress and the president will quit playing politics and get down to serious business.