COLO. SPRINGS–Three Republican senators had a message Tuesday for Coloradans: If you’re not worried about the looming cuts to defense spending, you should be.
Unless Congress and the president figure out before the end of the year where to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget, an automatic reduction known as budget sequestration is scheduled to kick in Jan. 2, triggering a $500 billion cut from defense.
At a town-hall meeting Tuesday at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, the senators explained how the defense cuts would affect Colorado, and it wasn’t pretty. The state would lose an estimated 42,562 jobs from direct and indirect reductions in military spending, according to a July report by George Mason University.
El Paso County would be especially hard-hit: About 30 percent of the county’s gross-domestic product is rooted in spending by the Pentagon and defense contractors.
“For the people of El Paso County, please understand: If the Congress allows defense sequestration to go forward, it will be devastating to the economy of this area,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “It will, more importantly, quite frankly destroy the defense capability that this area provides to the nation.”
He said the automatic cuts would result in the smallest Navy since 1950, the smallest Army since 1940, and the smallest Air Force in its history.
“Our own Secretary of Defense said we’d be shooting ourselves in the head, that we’d be undermining our national security for generations at a time when the world is incredibly dangerous,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. “This is not a time to back off. This is not a time to destroy our military.”
Ayotte and Graham were joined by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, all of whom serve on the Senate Armed Forces Committee. The three have conducted town halls in a half-dozen states since July to raise awareness about sequestration as part of their “Preserving America’s Strength” tour.
everal of those states, including Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, happen to be swing states, but the senators said their effort has nothing to do with election-year politics.
Both parties agreed to the sequestration clause last year as the penalty if the congressional “super committee” failed to reach a deficit-reduction deal. The bipartisan joint committee was unable to forge an agreement by the November 2011 deadline.
“I think it’s fair to criticize the Republican Party for sequestration. We agreed to this as a party,” said Graham. “This is not just one party getting off script here. It’s going to take both parties to fix it.”
They urged President Obama to return to Washington for talks on how to dodge the sequestration bullet. The president, the House and the Senate all have offered solutions to the problem, but “we’re miles apart,” said Graham.
The president, currently waging a tight reelection campaign, has spent most of the past few months on the hustings, including a half-dozen visits to Colorado over the past two months.
“We understand there’s an election going on, but the defense of our nation and the security of our country can’t wait for an election,” said Ayotte. “We are willing to go to Washington now to resolve this, and I would hope that he would lead an effort now to resolve this, because it’s too important.”
McCain noted testily that the president has made time for other concerns, such as his appearance this week on the daytime television show “The View.”
“The president of the United States was able to go on ‘The View,’ but yet he couldn’t meet with various world leaders today,” said McCain. “The president of the United States was in Las Vegas and also here in Colorado, and he was unable to find time in his schedule to meet with our closest ally in the Middle East, the prime minister of Israel.”
Added McCain, “I don’t question the president’s priorities. I can assure you [they] wouldn’t be my priorities.”
Mr. Obama has called for “balanced” approach to addressing the budget deficit that includes tax increases and spending cuts, while Republicans have balked at tax hikes.
At the same time, Graham said the three senators are willing to accept some of the revenue-enhancers from the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan.
“The three of us as Republicans have said, ‘We’ll put revenue on the table by using the Simpson-Bowles formula of eliminating deductions to help offset sequestration,’” said Graham. “We don’t want to raise tax rates. We’re going to need some Democratic friends to embrace entitlement reform to avoid defense sequestration.”
McCain said that the president didn’t cause the potential crisis, but that his leadership is necessary to avert it.
“I don’t want to put all the responsibility on the president because that would be unfair. but the president is the commander in chief,” said McCain. “That’s his most important responsibility, and if he accepts what the Secretary of Defense and the uniformed chiefs say, it seems to me it would be in the nation’s benefit if he would call us together and we would sit down together and resolve this looming threat to our nation.”
Also attending the town hall were Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn and El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen.
“We have to have the president involved also. We implore him to show the leadership to bring everyone together, and he can do that,” said Lamborn. “I just want to see that happen.”
Lathen wasn’t as optimistic. “I have a bad feeling about this,” she said. “To be direct, I don’t believe the administration is listening at all.”