By: Mike Murphy
October 21, 2011 04:33 AM EDT

Since Congress and the Obama administration struck the debt ceiling deal, much has been written about the national security implications of its possible $500 billion in defense cuts — which come in addition to $400 billion in already planned reductions.What has been lost in the discussion, however, is that cutting nearly a trillion dollars from the defense budget could also cripple an already limping U.S. economy. Simply put: The defense spending issue is a jobs issue.

The defense and aerospace industry supports 2.9 million jobs, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. Many are exactly the type of good-paying manufacturing and research and development jobs that economists say are vital to maintaining global U.S. competitiveness in high-end manufacturing and technology.

Massive defense cuts could trigger a tidal wave of layoffs in this sector of our economy, making the politics of this issue tricky for both Democrats and Republicans.

A dissection of 2012 battleground states illustrates both how important defense has become to the overall economy and the political perils of imposing reckless cuts on the Pentagon.

Consider North Carolina, a state vital to President Barack Obama’s reelection strategy and site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The Tar Heel state, though home to the Research Triangle, Tobacco Road and some of America’s best college basketball teams, is also a strong magnet for defense jobs.

The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce proudly declares on its website that four of the top 10 Pentagon contractors now have facilities in Mecklenburg County. If defense cuts were to result in significant job losses there, Obama could have a tough time articulating his jobs message to locals during the Democratic convention next September.

A list of other states whose economies depend on defense-related spending reads like a directory of key presidential and congressional battlegrounds. According to USASpending.gov, in 2010, $6.2 billion in prime-defense contracts were awarded to Florida, $7 billion to Pennsylvania, $19.4 billion to Virginia, $3.7 billion to Ohio and $3.2 billion to Colorado.

These states, along with Illinois and New York, which received $3.2 and $3.5 billion in contracts, respectively, also happen to be where the most intense battles for control of the House will likely be fought next year.

Factor in the jobs created by the thousands of defense suppliers, who work with the prime contractors in each state, and the economic footprint of the defense industry becomes so vast that responsible policy making and prudent political strategy should dictate that additional cuts be avoided.

Beltway politicos would be wise to remember that right now the American people are far more concerned about jobs and the economy than the deficit. In a CNN/ORC poll conducted Sept. 9-11, 65 percent of Americans said the president and Congress should pay more attention to creating jobs; only 29 percent said deficit reduction deserved more focus.

A WPA Opinion Research poll conducted June 24-27 found that voters opposed major defense cuts by a margin of 53 percent to 35 percent when informed of the negative impact the cuts could have on jobs.

Democrats in Washington, predisposed to take a meat ax to the defense budget, should be warned that opposition to defense cuts in the WPA poll topped 60 percent in the Latino and African-American communities, two critical Democratic voting blocs hard hit by the sagging economy.

Republicans, who continue to resist making any revenue-enhancing changes to the tax code, need to face the reality that job-destroying and national security-weakening defense cuts will be unavoidable — unless they follow House Speaker John Boehner’s lead and put tax reform back on the table.

If Congress and the White House dither away the opportunity to do something big on entitlements and tax reform and another round of massive defense cuts is thrust on an already shaky economy, incumbents from both parties should hunker down in 2012 for a very difficult election season.

Now is the time for a smart long-term plan to reform taxes and entitlements. Not a reckless push to slash hundreds of thousands of vital U.S. defense industry jobs.

Mike Murphy is a Republican political media consultant. He is a partner in the Revolution Agency, a communications firm that represents Save Defense Jobs.