As families throughout the country celebrated Father's Day this past weekend, several members of the Colorado National Guard weren't relaxing with family. Instead, they were putting their lives on the line as at least 150 members of the Colorado National Guard - alongside firefighters - worked to contain the wildfires that have engulfed large portions of our state.
These service members of The Colorado National Guard, a component of U.S. National Guard, are a cornerstone of our Colorado security, serving their communities, state and nation since 1860. It is impossible to imagine countering the devastation of natural disasters or celebrating Independence Day without their presence and service.
But now because of the mindless spending cuts brought about because of "sequestration," the Colorado National Guard is threatened with automatic spending cuts that could negatively impact military families and affect the Guard's readiness.
About 700 Colorado Guardsmen and women have begun receiving furlough notices. These sequestration-induced furlough notices are part of the 680,000 furloughs issued nationwide by the Department of Defense.
And these cuts are real. As Major General H. Michael Edwards recently said, "The Defense Department's [furloughs] will have an impact on the Colorado National Guard's long-term readiness."
Sequestration in the long run will reduce retention, resulting in a huge loss of institutional knowledge and capability. It will also result in fewer dollars for training. The result will be a less prepared and less equipped Colorado Guard. And it's not just the Guard that is affected by sequestration-parks and tourism, schools, and health-focused research are also likely to be hammered by cuts.
Our nation is $17 trillion in debt, and budgetary cuts need to be made. But the mindless nature of sequester is detrimental to America's economic growth and stability, and needs to be replaced with a balanced, carefully calculated plan.
These short-sighted cuts are too abrupt, too blunt, and too front-loaded at a time when we should be phasing in smart reforms over time. And while some have argued that the impacts of sequestration to date may have been overhyped, experts in Washington now acknowledge that the negative effects of the cuts are likely to grow much worse this summer.
Most importantly, the sequester does nothing to control the long-term drivers of our debt - our increasingly-costly entitlement programs and our outdated, inefficient tax code. Sequestration does not save enough over the long term to truly control our debt over future decades, nor does it adequately preserve necessities such as The National Guard.
It is time for leaders in Washington to work together. We need a big deal - one that reforms our entitlement programs to make them solvent for years to come and that restructures the tax code to broaden the base and close loopholes so everyone pays their fair share.
Colorado Senators Bennet and Udall deserve a lot of credit for working across the aisle to address our nation's debt. As a member of the Campaign to Fix the Debt (www.fixthedebt.org/colorado), a nonpartisan organization pushing Congress to address the unsustainable trajectory of our national debt, I urge our senators to continue working together to forge a bipartisan solution that gets America back on track.
There's just too much at stake if we don't.
Bill Ritter Jr. was the 41st chief executive of Colorado, serving from 2007 to 2011. A native of Aurora, Ritter is the director of the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) at Colorado State University and a member of steering committee for the Colorado Chapter of the advocacy group Fix the Debt.