U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, on a campaign-like swing through South Carolina’s military communities on Tuesday and Wednesday, said $1 trillion in planned cuts would cripple the nation’s armed forces, make the country more likely to face attacks in the future and jeopardize the estimated $16 million the military pumps into the state’s economy each year.
He claimed the cuts would result in the nation’s smallest ground force since1940, the smallest navy since 1915 and the smallest air force since its inception. Yet in the ongoing debate over taxes and the economy in the midst of a presidential race, the issue is not on the public’s or the candidates’ radar, he said, even calling on the Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to come up with a plan.
“A lot is at stake,” Graham said. “Let’s begin the debate now,
and let it start in South Carolina.”
The Pentagon has already implemented $487 billion in cuts to take place over the next decade, due in part to the end of combat operations in Iraq and a proposed drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. But another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years could be required beginning Jan. 1 because of last year’s debt-ceiling standoff in Congress and the failure of a congressional “super committee” to make $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions. That failure could trigger automatic cuts – half to the military, half to domestic spending – called “sequestering” unless another method is found to reduce spending.
Graham, who voted against the Debt Reduction Act of 2011, called the automatic cuts to the military “stupid.”
“If politicians can’t come up with a way to reduce spending, (then) fire us don’t fire the soldiers,” he said at a press conference in Columbia on Wednesday. “That’s bass-ackwards.”
Graham, a Seneca Republican and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the comments at a press conference at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. He was flanked by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of Springdale and S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston, both Republicans, as well as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat, and host of Midlands military boosters and business leaders.
Studies have shown that the military has a $16 billion a year economic impact on the state. “That’s a huge part of our economy,” Harrell said.
Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter and McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover pump $7.1 billion a year in total economic impact into the Midlands economy. That’s $1 billion more than the estimated economic impact of Boeing on the Charleston area.
Military installations in and around Charleston add an additional $4.7 billion a year to the state’s economy. And Beaufort’s three installations add $1.2 billion a year.
The cuts also are a threat to the Upstate, with its $2 billion a year in defense contracts held by companies that supply the military.
Graham made stops at Shaw, McEntire and Columbia on Wednesday. On Tuesday he visited Lockheed Martin and the S.C. National Guard in Greenville, Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort and Charleston Joint Air Base.
Experts believe the $487 billion in cuts already announced will have little effect on South Carolina. But another $600 billion likely would trigger another round of base closings and realignments (BRAC), which likely would affect installations here.
“All of what this community has done to support Fort Jackson is at risk,” Graham said
Charleston lost its Navy base in the 1990s, during a round of base closings. But in 2005 Fort Jackson and Shaw Air Force Base gained missions such as The National Drill Sergeant School and Third Army from other bases.
Graham urged state and military leaders to mobilize to oppose sequestering and position themselves to protect their bases and perhaps gain missions in South Carolina should another round of base closings occur.
“Get ready to tell the story of the efficiency of Fort Jackson and the community’s support for Fort Jackson,” he said. “Get ready to tell the BRAC story. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we’ve got to take sequestration off the table… Get the chamber ready. Mayor (Benjamin), pass a resolution. Bobby (Harrell), go to the State House and urge the Congress not to do this crazy stuff. Begin to generate public debate.”