Sequestration: Local Disaster or Highly Unlikely?

Aug 9, 2012

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned of drastic cuts to the military when he returned to the Monterey Peninsula this week, and he criticized Congress for failing to act.

In the next few months , you’ll be hearing a lot about sequestration.  It’s the word for across the board federal budget cuts that go into effect in January,  if Congress doesn’t act.  The cuts total more than one-trillion-dollars over the next decade.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has two words for sequestration. “It’s nuts,” said Secretary Panetta when he spoke this week in Monterey at the Association of Defense Communities Annual Conference.  He criticized Congress for creating the problem.  Sequestration was put in place last year when Congress cut a deal to raise the debt ceiling.  Lawmakers agreed that if it’s super-committee couldn’t come up with targeted cuts, across the board cuts would follow.  Secretary Panetta called sequestration an artificial crisis.  “Because they’re not willing to deal with the issues that confront them when it comes to reducing the deficit.  And so the sequestration process threatens to cut another $500-billion out of the defense budget.  And untold billions out of the nondefense budget,” said Secretary Panetta.  The Department of Defense is already facing cuts.  Over the next ten years, the rate of growth in the DOD’s budget will slow by nearly $500-billion.  Sequestration would compound that loss.  “If sequestration is allowed to go into effect it will be a disaster for national defense, and it would be a disaster, frankly, for defense communities as well,” said Secretary Panetta.

Monterey is home to the Naval Post Graduate School and Defense Language Institute, among other smaller operations.  “A lot of people don’t realize that we have upwards of 7000 active duty military, and of course, their families,” said Monterey City Manager Fred Muerer.  The military’s presence adds up to a huge economic impact for the city. “Probably second only to tourism,” added Muerer.  So he’s paying attention to what’s going on in Washington.  While Muerer is concerned about sequestration, “nobody can conceive of the Congress of being so inept, so in capable, by allowing sequestration to go through,” said Muerer.

Count Tim Ford among those who can’t conceive it.  He’s the CEO of the Washington D.C. based Association of Defense Communities, the organization behind this week’s conference.  “Somehow this will be resolved.  Most likely they are going to punt into another year, basically delay it. There’s a great strategy in Washington: if you push things far enough ahead, everyone forgets what you were supposed to do,” said Ford.  He says defense communities like Monterey need to focus on the bigger picture.  “We’re coming out of two conflicts.  We’ve had a decade of growth in the military budget. The growth of the military budget is not sustainable in the long term, and that we are going to see a reduction,” said Ford. That reduction will have an unknown effect on Monterey. “It’s really hard to say.  We have things working for us in that we long ago realized that most of our enemies don’t speak English, so we have the Defense Language Institute that is training members of all services in the languages of importance of national security and economic security of the United States,” said Muerer.  The uniqueness of Monterey’s military community could work in its favor when talking about targeted cuts. But sequestration is what Secretary Panetta called “mindless”, across the board cuts.  And if Congress doesn’t act, they’ll go into effect on January 2nd.