Unpleasant truth time: These days, nobody cares about defense issues.
Outside the family, people are worried about home prices; unemployment; the debt; and who Simon is going to bring in to replace Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul. Voters’ lack of interest in defense has meant this year’s GOP presidential race has offered almost nothing on the military or national security, beyond a few bullet points. Americans have never paid that much attention and today they’re paying even less.
(Check out, for example, Andrew Exum’s post “What Americans Think About the Defense Budget,” which draws conclusions from the way people rejiggered defense spending using an online tool created by the New York Times. If you’re a Navy backer or you love the Air Force bomber leg of the nuclear triad, brace yourself.)
So to bring it all back inside our bubble, the problem for defense advocates is clear: Onetime arguments that America couldn’t be “weak on terror,” or you might die, don’t cut it anymore. The war in Iraq is over and Afghanistan is invisible, so “support our troops” is losing steam. The last compelling way to sell the defense budget might be to connect it to the economy — which everybody says they do care about — and detail how $487 billion in reduced DoD budget growth would affect you.
That’s the goal of a report issued Wednesday by the conservative Center for Security Policy, which breaks down the potential effects of reduced DoD budget growth for every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia. It even goes into the numbers for individual counties, based on national projections and their local economies. The goal is clear: Give lawmakers and advocates who don’t normally run with the defense pack a reason to protect the defense budget and oppose the $500 billion in automatic budget “sequestration” set to take effect next January.
Let’s take one of America’s biggest military powerhouses: Vermont. The Green Mountain State stands to lose 2,164 jobs under sequestration, according to the Center for Security Policy’s report, as well as $128 million in lost earnings. Ninety four active-duty Vermonters would lose their jobs and 182 civilian DoD employees would lose theirs. Chittenden County, which includes the city of Burlington, would lose $113,929,371 from 2013 to 2021 under sequestration, the report says.
The numbers are obviously even scarier for no-kidding defense states: DoDBuzz’s home Commonwealth of Virginia, for example, stands to lose 122,770 jobs to sequestration; $7.24 billion in lost earnings; 10,527 active-duty servicemembers; and 22,428 civilian DoD employees. The Northern Virginia homes to much of the defense industry would be rocked: Fairfax County would lose $4,647,322,372 from 2013 to 2021 under sequestration; the Pentagon’s home of Arlington County would lose $1,635,730,039.
How real are all these projections? Put it this way: This study was released to help protect the defense budget, so its assumptions and methodology must be viewed through that prism. The authors themselves write in their introduction that “It is our hope that by bringing this information to the local employers, citizens and community and business leaders who will bear the brunt of this tsunami, they will be better able to prepare for it – and, ideally, to help stave it off.”
They also offer up the same awkward explanation we’ve heard before in arguments over spending v. cuts in the past year: Because defense spending isn’t intended to be stimulative, but rather is necessary for the “common defense,” that means it only accidentally benefits local communities, and as such is OK.
“We are mindful that [defense] spending is invested to secure the United States, its people and vital interests, and not as an employment measure,” the authors write. “That said, the reality is that there will be real and, as this product illustrates, in some cases draconian impacts on both jobs in and the economies of states, counties and cities across the country and on the viability of various businesses, as a result of the direct and indirect effects of such cuts.”
How effective will this be? It’s imposible to say in today’s capital — there are people who believe sequestration is inevitable and won’t actually be that big of a deal. There are also those who believe it would cause the Pentagon to collapse in on itself like a neutron star. But as we’ve seen, even with reports like the one released Wednesday, Congress probably won’t take any action until after the election, giving plenty more time to debate all this.