Senators discuss defense, military budget cuts at UCCS
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 13:10
Colorado Springs residents, including the approximately 1,500 military students enrolled at UCCS, may stand to receive the brunt force of defense spending cuts.
Three U.S. senators spoke at a Town Hall in the Upper Lodge on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, discussed automatic cuts to military spending under next year’s budget sequestration.
The event, hosted by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation, was a part of the senators’ “Preserving America’s Strength” Town Hall tour.
It brought together heavy hitters from state and local government, including House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, as well as university officials, students, business owners and members of the community.
Gene Renuart, retired U.S. Air Force four-star general and previous commander of the United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, opened the Town Hall by highlighting the role defense spending plays in the local and state economy, including the nearly $7 billion spent on five military institutions in Colorado that provide 75,000 jobs across the Front Range.
The three senators all said that cuts can be made, but that the cuts under sequestration would be devastating.
“We need further cuts and savings to get costs under control,” McCain said. “We’re spending money on things that have nothing to do with defense,” he added, noting that there are some areas where both sides can find compromise.
$487 billion in defense cuts are already scheduled to take effect over the next decade. Initial reductions include 72,000 soldiers cut from the Army and 20,000 from the Marine Corps. The U.S. naval fleet, meanwhile, will be kept at 285 ships.
Further reductions may be in store for what the senators have dubbed a “meat axe approach.” The automatic cuts to the Department of Defense’s budget were a part of a budget ceiling deal reached in the House last year. A penalty clause in the deal stated that if Congress did not trim $1.2 billion, then $500 billion would be cut from defense.
The additional cuts would take effect starting Jan. 1, 2013, but action may be taken as early as a week before the presidential election.
Major defense employers, Ayotte explained, must issue layoff notices 60 days in advance according to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Whether or not those notices will be issued remains unclear.
McCain, who admitted to voting for the debt ceiling deal, called the automated cuts a “dumb idea” that carries “profound,” “bad consequences” and referenced Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s statement that cuts in defense spending would leave the U.S. unable to respond to crises.
He said that the proposed budget slashing would have “draconian effects” and that the Pentagon has not planned for cuts yet, something that regularly takes months or even years.
McCain also pointed to an October 2011 George Mason University study, saying that Department of Defense cuts put 18,442 Colorado jobs at risk and threaten the $6.9 billion that defense pumps into the state economy (the study itself cites 17,107 jobs for Colorado). McCain said that this endangers national security and that in a “stumbling recovery” it would have an effect on the economy.
Ayotte reiterated Panetta’s comment on the effects of cuts, saying that we are “shooting ourselves in the head.” She also referenced the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said earlier this year that as a result of the cuts, “We would no longer be a global power.”
As the Wall Street Journal reported in March, Dempsey later amended his remarks and said that “we wouldn’t be the global power that we know ourselves to be today.”
Ayotte pointed to Iran’s alleged development of a nuclear weapon, China’s presence against Japan in the South China Sea and the situation in Afghanistan as examples of why the U.S. must maintain a strong military.
“Now is not the time to destroy our military,” Ayotte said. “Certainly we can reduce defense spending in a responsible way.”
Ayotte referenced budgeted areas like VA benefits, which are exempt from cuts, but said that some areas will need to be scaled back. “All of us are going to have to bite the bullet on discretionary spending,” she said.
She cited the consequences for different divisions of the military, including “drastic” cuts to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
The cuts would result in the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915 and the smallest Air Force in the military organization’s history.