Unless Congress acts in the next seven months, a plan to shave $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade could cause "serious" job losses at the Rock Island Arsenal, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling warned Monday.|
The Budget Control Act of 2011 will trigger the "sequester," or cuts, in January 2013 as a result of last year's failure of a bipartisan "supercommittee" to reach consensus on ways to reduce the federal deficit.
"Sequester, in plain English, means massive defense cuts without any planning," Rep. Schilling, R-Colona, said Monday at a forum in Moline. U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack, D-Mount Vernon, Iowa, and Randy Forbes, R-Va., joined Rep. Schilling at the "defending our defenders" forum designed to raise awareness of the potential affect of the planned reductions in defense spending.
All three are members of the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness. Rep. Forbes, who chairs the subcommittee, said the cuts could hurt local economies severely and, more importantly, reduce the nation's defense capabilities.
It's unclear how the cuts would be implemented, Rep. Forbes said, but the impact would be felt across the military, including at the Rock Island Arsenal.
Last year the threat of $1.2 trillion in cutbacks -- split between defense and domestic programs -- was used as a carrot to encourage the so-called "supercommittee" to come up with a bipartisan solution to the federal deficit. But the group failed to reach consensus, which triggered the automatic cutbacks.
Rep. Schilling said he voted for the Budget Control Act in the belief that the supercommittee would agree on a plan to reduce the deficit. It's a decision he said he now regrets, and one that drew criticism from Democrat Cheri Bustos, of East Moline, his opponent in the Nov. 6 election.
"Congressman Schilling's constituents deserve to know the truth, that he is responsible for the cuts he now is allegedly concerned will harm the Rock Island Arsenal," said Bustos campaign manager Allison Jaslow.
Rep. Schilling said he is prepared to work across party lines to prevent the cuts from being implemented, fearing they could cause "serious" job losses at the Arsenal.
The uncertainty already has caused some private contractors who work with the military to shed workers, Rep. Forbes said. He predicted as many as 1.5 million jobs, both public and private, would be lost if the cuts are implemented.
Rep. Loebsack said it made no sense to impose large cutbacks in defense spending without first studying the problem.
"If we can't think about this clearly and rationally, then we are in big trouble," he said.
About $487 billion in defense spending cutbacks already have been programmed for the next decade. Rep. Forbes said the country has "only felt the tip of the iceberg," and another $500 billion on top of those cuts would damage the military's ability to respond to future conflicts.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has urged Congress to find ways to avoid the sequestration, saying the action will increase the national unemployment rate by 1 percent.
Several Arsenal workers also attended Monday's forum at the Western Illinois University Riverfront Campus. Craig Flenker, president of Local 2119 of the American Federation of Government Employees at the Arsenal, encouraged the congressmen to continue their work to safeguard the Arsenal against cutbacks.
Rep. Forbes said the cutbacks would come at a time when the world is becoming more dangerous and rising powers like China are expanding their military presence. But he said he was convinced that, if the public becomes aware of the dangers of the proposed defense spending cuts, they would pressure Congress to act.
However, he admitted there are divisions over how to avoid the sequestration; some are arguing for higher taxes and others want cutbacks in domestic programs. To prevent the cutbacks, he said, a compromise will be needed before January.