Written by Tom Knighton
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard, a host of county and city commissioners, and quite a few citizens of Albany gathered together at the Albany-Dougherty County Government Center to learn about the possibility of sequestration and how it could impact Albany and Dougherty County.
Sequestration is, basically, an across the board cut in all federal spending. The law requiring this was put into place as a stick to use to pressure the so-called “super committee” to make necessary cuts. Since that committee failed to enact the required cuts, sequestration now stands as a possibility.
Among the hardest hit by sequestration will be the Department of Defense. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isackson, along with Rep. Sanford Bishop, spoke on how deep the cuts can be.
Chambliss recounted how the possibility of sequestration first came about as a result of last year’s debt ceiling debate. “It was an ugly scene as we debated and ultimately voted to increase the debt ceiling,” Chambliss said.
Sequestration, as Chambliss explained it, only impacts “discretionary” spending, as opposed to mandatory spending. Chambliss said that defense spending falls into that category. In fact, Chambliss points out that defense spending is 50 percent of discretionary spending and that sequestration will eliminated $475 billion from the Department of Defense’s budget.
Chambliss said that those cuts, which outstrip current cuts instituted at the DOD, would gut the defense department. “If we have to come up with that additional money, there’s a chance we could hollow out the DOD like never before,” Chambliss said.
The Army and Marine Corps would be particularly hard hit. At MCLB Albany, there are currently 400 Marines, and an additional 4,000 civilians. Chambliss pointed out that contractors at the base could face layoffs of 20 percent of their personnel.
“So what are our options?” Chambliss asked.
The first Chambliss outlined was that Congress allow sequestration to kick in. “That’s not a very viable option,” Chambliss said.
The second is to offset the reported $1.2 trillion through other cuts which would still meet the requirements, but wouldn’t hit the DOD nearly as hard.
A third option is what Chambliss called “The Grand Bargain”, a bi-partisan compromise that would avert sequestration. The bargain spawned from the “Gang of Six”, of which Chambliss is a part.
Sen. Isackson praised Sen. Chambliss’ leadership in the senate. “I’m just sorry that the leadership in the senate pass it on to the super committee,” Isackson said.
Isackson went on to say, “We’re not talking about not cutting $1.2 trillion. We’re talking about the super committee dropping the ball.”
Isackson called for cuts that utilize a “cost/benefit analysis” rather than arbitrary cuts that sequestration would bring.
Rep. Bishop referred to sequestration as an “unwise and destructive policy” due to the impact it would have on communities throughout the nation. Bishop pointed out that sequestration was never meant to happen. Instead, he said, “It was intended to be a sword, hanging over the head of the super committee.”
Bishop spoke to the crowd about the how sequestration could lead to greater unemployment and hurt local businesses that depend on MCLB Albany for their business and that sequestration could lead to a “unready, hollow military force.”
Pentagon officials have already said they will not cut off funding for military campaigns overseas, but will instead funnel funds to war accounts in an effort to minimize the impact on warfighters serving in combat zones. Instead, sequestration could lead to less training for troops, furloughs without pay for civilian employees. “I’m also troubled by the impact on military families,” Bishop said, pointing out that the Pentagon could be forced to reduce base services.
So where should the cuts come from? Rep. Bishop echoed Sen. Isackson by saying that they should come from across the board, but utilize a cost/benefit analysis. Bishop also said that while there is still some “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the DOD, they have overall acted responsibly during this financial crisis. However, he said that without sufficient cuts, “we’ll be in chaos.”
Senators Chambliss and Isackson both think a starting place should be redundant programs, citing a GAO report commissioned by Senator Tom Coburn that shows a number of programs that are duplicated, at times within the same department and at other times by other departments.
Sen. Chambliss also thinks that there are cuts to be made in government hiring. “When we look at where the hiring are happening, and it’s in the federal government, I think we need to tighten our belts.” He also said he thinks the cuts need to be targeted, rather than across the board.
Isackson also referred to Sen. Coburn’s study, and cited schools on military basis as an example, arguing that those dependents could attend public schools instead. He said, “Rather that than to take bullets out of their guns.” He went on to say that the American people have had to cut, so the federal government needed to as well.
The delegation left Albany heading to Columbus to discuss the matter there.