Our military will be hit with cuts of about $500 billion over the next ten years, the largest reduction ever imposed on our forces. This will be on top of the $487 billion in defense cuts that President Obama put in place in 2011.
How did we get here?
One year ago the President and Senate Democrats fought with House Republicans over the debt ceiling. Republicans would not raise it without serious entitlement reform. They compromised with "sequestration," a plan for automatic cuts to Medicare providers and big cuts to Defense, unless a bipartisan "super committee" could agree on a way to downsize spending with substantial reform of exploding entitlement programs. I was convinced that the "super committee" would never reach a consensus and Washington liberals, including the President, would gladly accept large cuts to the military to get the debt ceiling raised. Therefore I voted AGAINST sequestration and the dumb "super committee" idea that ultimately failed and left us facing deep and immediate cuts to defense.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the coming cuts cause "an unacceptable risk" that will "increase the likelihood of conflict," and President Obama's Defense Secretary says the cuts will "hollow out the force and inflict severe damage to our national defense." They're absolutely right, but so far only House Republicans are doing anything to prevent it.
While many in Washington would prefer to characterize the effects of this downsizing in abstract terms, the reality is these cuts will reverberate throughout America's military communities and have real-world, lasting impacts.
Right here in the Shreveport-Bossier community, the Air Force will be left with no choice but to make difficult cuts in personnel, training and maintenance activities, and possibly even the numbers of aircraft assigned to Barksdale's units.
Think of seeing fewer B-52s flying overhead, fewer airmen and their families at houses of worship and out to eat at local restaurants, and fewer defense contracts with small businesses. In fact, we barely held on to the A-10s for one more year through last minute work on the recently-passed Defense Authorization bill. With Barksdale's annual payroll approaching half a billion dollars last year ($485M) and the base responsible for over a quarter billion dollars ($241M) in direct expenditures, even a 10% reduction in personnel and purchasing could result in severe economic impacts that leave our community reeling for years.
Last week I voted for the Sequester Transparency Act, a measure that is a first step in pushing the President and Senate Democrats to get serious about working with House Republicans to stop this looming disaster, while there's still time. We must downsize the federal government and balance the budget, but not on the backs of our brave men and women in uniform.
Congressman John Fleming's column appears periodically in the Minden Press-Herald.