Clock ticking on sequestration

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If you ask Coloradans what’s the biggest threat to our national security, they’ll probably say things like terrorism, a rising China or a nuclear Iran. Cyber-terrorism and North Korea would probably also make the list.

But you’re not likely to hear the word “sequestration” — a provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that hits January 2013 — just a few months away. It is a $1.2 trillion cut in defense and other domestic programs. For defense, it means additional cuts of about $500 billion over the next 10 years. This is on top of $487 billion the Pentagon has already built into budget planning for FY13 and the following nine years, and the “efficiency” cuts instituted by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — which totaled $100 billion-plus a few years ago.

Our services have built their budgets and programs to support the administration’s National Defense Strategy published earlier this year. Sequestration would throw all that out the window, and the services would not be able to support the strategy as currently written.

Sequestration was never supposed to occur. It was included in the BCA of 2011 as a device triggered only if the committee couldn’t find any better way to cut our debt. It was intentionally designed to be so painful and destructive that no legislator would allow it to occur. It is not just about defense cuts; there is the economic impact to our defense/aerospace industry and the businesses, many of them small business, that make up the supply chain.

Sequestration will mean an estimated 8-10 percent across-the-board cut to all programs within defense, plus more from other critical programs, such as NASA and civil aviation. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta calls it a blind, mindless meat axe that will make it impossible for our military to accomplish the missions our leaders have assigned.

The Joint Chiefs say these cuts will ruin the credibility of our military deterrent, increasing the risk to our troops around the globe. Virtually every major weapons program would be at risk, from the F-35 stealth fighter, with 13 suppliers in our state, to military-grade weather satellites made in Boulder labs. Sequestration mechanically hacks into every program and account, regardless of merit, value or military need. Planners will have little flexibility to manage the impending problem.

Analysts at George Mason University and the University of Maryland say this would affect up to 1.5 million private-sector jobs, including over 17,000 here in Colorado. We would also likely see cuts to our military and government employees. The Congressional Budget Office says we’d tumble over a “fiscal cliff” into a new recession. Colorado is America’s third-largest aerospace economy — which means we have much to lose up and down the Front Range.

The aerospace/defense economy is critical to Colorado’s economic well-being, generating more than 2 percent of our state’s GDP today. There has been a 7 percent rise in private aerospace employment in the past 6 years and more than $7 billion in revenue to our state.

Sequestration puts much at risk. Congress has less than six months to resolve the situation. It won’t be easy. The same forces that stymied the super-committee and triggered sequestration in the first place are still barriers to an easy compromise. We have let our delegation know through the Chamber and EDC leadership, and also from the Colorado Space Coalition, that resolving this issue in the coming months should be a top priority.

Our national debt needs to be addressed, but sequestration was never envisioned to be the first step in the solution. Our Congress needs to work toward a compromise that doesn’t fully put the greatest burden on defense, and the resulting harm to our aerospace/defense industrial base — nationwide, and more importantly in Colorado.

Brian Binn is president, Military Affairs Division, for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC.