Potential ramifications of looming defense budget cuts — known in legislative lingo as “sequestration” — are a big issue in Washington and in Oklahoma, home to five military installations.
Last summer, congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama were engaged in a bitter stalemate over a deficit-reduction package. To avert an Aug. 2 default, Republicans wanted a debt limit increase matched with equal budget cuts. Obama wanted a combination of cuts and tax increase. U.S. public debt subject to limit is at $15.8 trillion.
Budget Control Act of 2011 spending cuts mainly apply to discretionary spending — $0.8 trillion in cuts to defense programs and $0.7 trillion in cuts to non-defense programs, according to the Congressional Research Service. More than half of the spending cuts are through the coming “trigger” process that will take effect Jan. 2, 2013, unless new legislation is passed to prevent it.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, spoke about the pending defense cuts and said Obama is “leaning on” industry to delay pink slips required by law until after the Nov. 7 election.
Inhofe said he wanted to remind the president the nation has a law, the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.
“I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama Sequestration be notified in advance of the November election,” Inhofe said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”
Inhofe said he is concerned about the potential for job losses in Oklahoma. The state is home to Altus Air Force Base, Fort Sill, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Vance Air Force Base and Tinker Air Force Base. As previously reported by The Edmond Sun Tinker is part of restructuring projected to save about $109 million a year.
More than 69,100 military personnel, federal civilian personnel and contractors were employed at the installations in FY2010, according to a recent military economic impact study. These jobs and operations at the installations, supported another 64,700 jobs in Oklahoma’s economy for a total impact of more than 133,800 jobs in the state. Their total impact, including wage and salary payroll, is $5.6 billion.
Tom Guild, D-Edmond, who is challenging U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Edmond, for the 5th District seat, blames congressional Republicans for the debt ceiling fight. Guild said it damaged the nation and caused the historic credit downgrade.
Guild said Lankford and his colleagues insisted on making cuts and sequestration, and they wanted the so-called “Supercommittee” charged with defining the cuts. For House Republicans to be concerned about the ramifications now is hypocrisy, he said.
“The responsibility lays at their feet,” Guild said, stating that if the cuts take effect and harm the economy the blame lies with House Republicans.
The bipartisan Supercommittee failed to agree on a deficit reduction deal before a deadline.
Lankford said Obama wants to delay a major national debate on spending reductions until after the election. On Wednesday, the House passed The Sequestration Transparency Act in a bipartisan vote of 414-2, Lankford said.
Lankford said the cuts imposed by the “trigger” are “potentially devastating to Oklahoma’s economy.” The Senate has not voted or created a Senate version of several measures passed by the House to avoid deep national security cuts, he said.
“Yesterday’s important vote in the House on the Sequestration Transparency Act sought to provide the national security and aerospace communities certainty to plan for the future,” Lankford said. “If the president and the Senate have a specific plan for avoiding the deep defense cuts on Jan. 2, 2013, they should release it. For the sake of jobs, technology advancements and security we should not wait until the last minute to act on these cuts.”
Robert Murphy, I-Norman, who will formally launch his 5th District bid on Aug. 1, said the nation cannot build its economy with the defense industry. Murphy said he wants to pull U.S. troops out of the Middle East and Afghanistan, that the military’s mission is too broad.
“Warmaking is not productive,” he said. “It’s destructive.”
Murphy said the defense industry was wise to have interests in the districts of many representatives in Congress. He said he prefers turning defense industry jobs into non-military jobs.
When asked about the current mess in Congress, Pat Martin, I-Jones, had a blunt response.
“That’s exactly what it is — a mess,” he said.
Martin said he favors responsible cuts. He thinks Congress will figure out a budget solution, but find a way to delay it.
“If you’re going to buy time you’ve got to do something with it,” he said.
Congress must prioritize spending and make cuts accordingly, Martin said. He said he wants to first address government waste, mismanagement and fraud and the constant two-party fighting.
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