Sequestration continues to loom. That’s the law Congress passed last year, duly signed by the President, that requires $1.2 trillion in automatic deficit-reduction cuts over the coming decade. They’d come from discretionary spending if lawmakers and the President can’t come up with a better idea by Jan. 2.
Half of those cuts would come from defense accounts, pushing spending levels all the way back to 2007 levels. That would still leave it above the Cold War average.
But the whole spending debate has gotten totally off track:
— The National Association of Manufacturers is warning that sequestration would lead to the loss of 1,010,000 defense-related jobs in the private sector by 2014, boosting unemployment by more than half a percentage point. Wonder how long NAM had to tweak the data to clear that magic million-job mark? Of course, labor experts had difficulty predicting next month’s unemployment rate, so there’re plenty of wiggle room when it comes to creating such projections.
— Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest defense contractor, is seeking to “go Scrooge” on its 123,000 employees, saying it will have to issue notice of likely layoffs to most of them just before Election Day. Yes, there is a federal requirement of a 60-day notice before someone can be laid off, and yes, sequestration’s impact will be tough to divine until the Pentagon spells out how it plans to handle it. With Lockheed’s battalions of lawyers and accountants, you know there is a better way. But ain’t that perfect: the Pentagon continues to insist it is not planning for sequestration, which lets its contractors threaten most everyone with layoffs, so they’ll complain to Congress over the prospect. Some call it democracy; others call it cynicism.
— Finally, we have the absurdity of the government of Montana suing Leon Panetta for daring to want to move 15 Air National Guard F-15 jet fighters from Great Falls to Fresno, California. “It is essential that the Montana Air National Guard retain the ability to carry out its dual role mission of effective response to domestic emergencies” Governor Brian Schweitzer said (haven’t seen many F-15s responding to forest fires, hurricanes or civil unrest in Missoula).
But the real problem isn’t moving the F-15s to California – it’s a possible snag in the Pentagon’s plan to move eight C-130s to Montana from Texas. So long as the move of those C-130s remains in limbo due to congressional tinkering, the F-15s should stay, the lawsuit says. The fighters support 800 Montana jobs, the state says, and generated $66 million in local spending in 2011 – not including the “roughly $15 million annually in fuel purchased from a local Montana refinery.”
And what’s that snag in the C-130 move? It seems – surprise! — that Texas is fighting to halt it.
Let’s take a step back for a minute, folks. Why are lawmakers so concerned with the tactics of protecting homestate pork where there is a real and strategic fiscal threat hanging over the economic health of the nation? A vibrant economy, after all, is the fuel that powers national defense. The whole debate over defense spending is boiling down to self-interest, the national interest be damned.