Can’t afford defense cuts

Published 8:57 am Friday, October 21, 2011

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not minced words in offering his assessment of another $600 billion in defense cuts.

Asked before a congressional panel if these looming security cuts would be the equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot, he responded without hesitation: “We’d be shooting ourselves in the head.”

For reasons of both national security and local jobs, citizens of Hampton Roads ought to carefully consider the sober assessments of our military commanders and leaders regarding the impacts of adding another $600 billion in security cuts to the $489 billion Congress has already enacted. Panetta has said such looming cuts would “guarantee that we will hollow out the force” and leave us “unable to protect this nation from a range of security threats that we face.”

Current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has called them “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” Former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen referred to the cuts as having the potential to be “so devastating and so dramatic that we place at risk the very security we’re charged to provide, that we negate the very reason we exist.” Political speeches and partisan wrangling on Capitol Hill seem trite in comparison to the grave warnings from our nation’s highest ranking military leaders.

The local economic impact of these cuts should also give our region great pause. Panetta has warned that if looming trillion-dollar cuts to national defense are enacted, the nation will see unemployment climb by another 1 percent. That’s more than 1.5 million jobs lost. Such devastating job losses forecast by the Defense Secretary exceed all of the job losses in the construction industry during the recession.

Even if Panetta’s numbers are overstated, another $600 billion in security cuts would bring at least 200,000 pink slips for active duty war-fighters nationwide; 13 percent of our service members would be forced out. To these individuals, getting a late paycheck will pale in comparison to the prospect of joining the ranks of unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who already face a 22 percent jobless rate. Another 200,000 job losses will come to Department of Defense civilian workers; one in four will get pink slips.

The impacts to Hampton Roads specifically would be dire. According to the Navy, Hampton Roads is home to more than 82,000 active-duty sailors and 37,000 Navy civilians. If these predictions were applied evenly to the Hampton Roads Navy community, the region could see in excess of 20,000 active duty and civilian job losses – a number equivalent to nearly half of the labor force of Suffolk. Such losses would grow significantly when considering the indirect impact to professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, dining, transportation, retail, education and health services in our area. Housing values would fall; tax revenues would decline.

For those fortunate enough to continue in military service, the outlook would also be grim. A smaller force would devastate the already minimal dwell times and remaining sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines would be asked to spend more time away from their families as they deploy to deter aggression and protect U.S. national interests. Service members’ missions will grow; training, equipment, and maintenance will shrink. Quality of life for military families will also get worse. Spousal tuition assistance, commissary savings, and family programs will be decimated. Veterans’ benefits will also suffer. President Obama has proposed reducing the national deficit by decreasing veteran benefits by “civilianizing” war-fighter retirement plans, creating new TRICARE fees, and restructuring military pharmacy benefits.

Citizens ought to be outraged that the bailout and stimulus spending binges of recent years now threatens our economic and national security. For comparison’s sake consider that the $79.69 billion spent bailing out private automakers could have funded Navy shipbuilding for over five years. The $535 million of taxpayer money dumped into the now-bankrupt solar power company Solyndra could have completed this year’s backlog of ship maintenance with nearly $200 million left over. The $1.36 trillion spent propping up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could have funded the entire base budget of the Department of Defense for almost three years.

RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is