Despite Possible Government Shutdown, Many Military Families Think Congress Will Reverse Sequestration in the Fall

Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith / Defense Department file photo

A new survey of military families found that more than half believe that Congress will repeal sequestration before the across-the-board spending cuts fully resume in October.

Fifty-two percent of service members and their families “are still holding on to the belief that Congress will void sequestration” before fiscal 2016 starts on Oct. 1, according to the latest survey from First Command Financial Behaviors Index.

That may be overly optimistic: There’s two months left before the start of the new fiscal year and Congress is on recess, the White House has threatened to veto spending bills that don’t reverse sequestration, and both Republicans and Democrats have raised the possibility of a government shutdown in the fall.

Lawmakers agreed to partially repeal the automatic, governmentwide budget cuts that took effect in 2013 during fiscal years 2014 and 2015. But sequestration takes full effect again in October, unless Congress acts to stop it.

The White House has threatened to veto the current Defense authorization legislation and its companion spending bills because, among other things, the legislation does not repeal sequestration but instead bolsters the department’s budget by labeling billions in permanent funding part of the overseas contingency operations account. The funds in that account are not subject to the automatic budget caps that will resume in fiscal 2016. The Obama administration views that move as a budget gimmick, and instead would like sequestration completely repealed.

The First Command survey of military families in June showed increasing optimism that Congress would eliminate the budget cuts. The latest survey is the first time in fiscal 2015 that more than 50 percent of military families believed sequestration would come to an end sooner rather than later. Forty-two percent of survey participants “would like to see Congress repeal caps on all spending, while 38 percent believe only the defense spending caps should be lifted,” according to First Command.

Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they approved of Congress’ job performance, compared with 7 percent of the civilian population.

“This optimism does not offset military families’ continued anxiety about defense spending cuts and sequestration, with 70 percent indicating feeling extremely or very anxious,” the survey said. Respondents’ top two concerns related to budget cuts were more individual fiscal responsibility for health care and reduced retirement benefits.

House and Senate lawmakers are currently working on hammering out differences between the two chambers’ Defense bills, which ultimately could result in reforms to the military retirement system and higher drug co-payments under Tricare.

Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents were “at least somewhat concerned about their job security over the coming months,” First Command said, an increase of 9 percent from the group’s May survey.

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