Fort Stewart and Hinesville stand to lose 7,000 defense-related jobs if sequestration takes effect Jan. 2, 2013, warned Georgia’s senior U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss on Monday during a visit to the MidCoast Regional Airport.
“Let’s make no mistake about it,” Chambliss, a Republican, told community leaders before explaining the difference between discretionary spending and mandatory spending. “Our country is in real fiscal trouble. We spend too much money at the Defense Department, just as we spend too much money at the Agricultural Department and every other department. (But) the consequences (of sequestration) on (military) communities will have just as significant an impact as it will have on the military.”
The sequester is a $1.2 trillion package of defense and entitlement cuts that will kick in if Congress doesn’t develop a debt reduction package of its own.
Chambliss, who originally is from Darien, spoke to local business and elected leaders, including members of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, Hinesville City Council and Liberty County Commission.
Chamber CEO Leah Poole welcomed guests, then turned the program over to retired Maj. Gen. David Bockel, executive director of the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee.
Bockel, a Vietnam veteran, said he remembered watching the “hollowing out” of the military after that war and warned against letting that happen again. He then introduced Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, who also is a Vietnam veteran.
Thomas called Chambliss a statesman, a term he said he doesn’t use loosely, noting that the senator had worked with other members of Congress to find bipartisan solutions to the nation’s budget problems.
“(Sequestration) will hurt this city,” Thomas commented before the program began. “It’ll hurt Fort Stewart. It’ll hurt everybody.”
Chambliss explained that more than one-third — $492 billion — of the mandatory sequestration cuts would be made to defense spending. These cuts would come on top of $487 billion in cuts already proposed in the president’s budget, he said.
He quoted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who described the effects of sequestration on national defense as “devastating.” In addition to the 80,000 fewer soldiers and 20,000 fewer Marines already proposed, sequestration would reduce ground forces to levels not seen since 1940, Panetta said in a November 2011 letter to Congress.
“Georgia is fifth in the nation in military population,” Chambliss said. “The impact of sequestration on Fort Stewart and Hinesville would be a loss of 7,000 jobs.”
Chambliss’ press secretary, Lauren Claffrey, said sequestration could cost more than 28,000 jobs in Georgia and more than a million jobs around the country.
The threat of sequestration already has a negative effect on the defense industry, Chambliss said. He read comments by Robert J. Stevens, chairman and CEO for Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in Georgia.
Stevens also called sequestration devastating, pointing out the threat is causing a loss of skills and knowledge as the nation’s brightest college graduates are rethinking their career choices.
Chambliss explained defense contractors have to notify employees 60 to 90 days in advance of pending layoffs.
During a question-and-answer session, Chambliss called Congress the “biggest procrastinator in the world” and said some lawmakers want to see sequestration triggered. Some people want to see a hollowed-out military, he said.
Thomas asked what he and other elected officials can do to prevent sequestration. Chambliss advised him and other leaders to send emails and submit resolutions to Congress and the White House, demanding they “fix” the budget situation without sequestration.
“If we don’t fix (our budget problems), we’ll be the first generation in this country to leave this country in worse shape than we received it,” Chambliss said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll (stop sequestration). It won’t happen before the election, though, then we’ll have to get a lame-duck Congress to pass something, and that won’t be easy either.”