U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today warned employees at BAE Systems’ Merrimack facility that deep defense cuts slated to start in January would hollow out the military and cost 3,600 New Hampshire defense supplier jobs. The senators, who are members of the Armed Services Committee, have been traveling the country on their “Preserving America’s Strength” tour, which is aimed at encouraging the president and Congress to reach a deal that avoids the pending reductions. They made stops yesterday in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, joined by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Triggered by the failure of the so-called “Super Committee” to agree on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction last fall, spending on national defense is set to be automatically reduced by about $500 billion starting in a little over five months. These “sequestration” reductions would be in addition to $487 billion in already-planned Pentagon cuts – for a total of nearly $1 trillion out of the defense budget over the next 9 years.
“President Obama’s own Secretary of Defense called the looming defense cuts under budget sequestration ‘devastating,’ likening them to ‘shooting ourselves in the head,’ and yet to date, Congress and the Obama Administration have done nothing to stop them from going into effect,” said Senator McCain, the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee. “We’re sounding the alarm about the profound negative consequences of these cuts to our national security and economy. The communities we’ve visited – which provide our troops the equipment and support they need to defend our country – will bear the brunt of the defense sequestration cuts. Their voices must be heard in Washington.”
“Military spending accounts for about 19 percent of the budget but comes in for 50 percent of the cuts. While I’m all for tightening our belts, we shouldn’t add a national security crisis to our fiscal crisis – and that’s what these reductions would do,” said Senator Ayotte, the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. “We can’t afford to wait until after the elections to act. That’s why we’re going through the budget now to find common sense savings. With our national security at stake, I’m willing to work with both sides of the aisle to find a compromise to resolve this situation and call on our president to lead the effort.”
The testimony of senior Department of Defense officials leaves little doubt regarding the impact of the defense sequestration cuts. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said these reductions would “inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations,” estimating that the U.S. would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.
In addition to an already pending reduction of 72,000 soldiers, the Army could see an additional 100,000 cut from its total size – with about half coming from the National Guard and Reserve. The Navy would be forced to slash approximately 50 ships and submarines from the naval inventory, resulting in a 235-ship Navy that is 78 fewer ships than the Navy has said our national security requires. And the Marine Corps is facing a potential reduction of approximately 18,000 Marines – on top of a pending force cut of 20,000. Faced with that daunting prospect, the Corps’ Assistant Commandant recently testified that the Marines wouldn’t be able to conduct a “single major contingency operation.”
Highlighting the importance of America’s defense suppliers to the nation’s military readiness, Ayotte noted a recently released study by Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University that predicts over 1 million defense jobs will be lost if defense sequestration cuts take effect.
“As courageous and as skilled as our troops are, they cannot perform their missions empty-handed. We must equip them with the most advanced technologies and most effective weapon systems in the world,” said Ayotte. “A strong, technologically-advanced, and agile defense industrial base is a core component of American national security.”
The United States is currently spending less on defense as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product than the historical average – 4.7 percent in 2011, when compared to an average of 7 percent between 1946 and 2000. Defense spending as a portion of federal outlays has declined over the past 50 years (1963 to 2013) – from 48 percent to 19 percent. At the same time, federal spending on entitlement programs has increased from 26 percent to 60 percent.
Ayotte has worked diligently to find savings at the Defense Department. In addition to pushing for an audit of the Pentagon and contracting reform, she successfully passed legislation that could help save over $1 billion by allowing the Air Force to retire aircraft it doesn’t need.
With Senator McCain and others, Ayotte earlier this year introduced the “Down Payment to Protect National Security Act,” legislation that would prevent automatic defense and non-defense cuts by finding more responsible budget savings in other areas of the federal government.