Denny Rehberg

Great Falls Tribune

Great Falls, like a lot of defense communities around the country, faces an uncertain future. President Obama has called for two new rounds of base closures. The ICBM mission at Malmstrom is threatened by New START reductions, which may just be the beginning of our unilateral disarmament. Keeping MANG’s F-15s in Montana will require a communitywide effort if we’re going to beat back the collective force of California and Texas.

But as we marshal our effort, there’s another storm on the horizon with major implications not only in Great Falls, but for our nation.

Unless Congress stops it, on January 2, 2013, devastating automatic defense cuts called “sequestration” will occur. It’s a big word, with even bigger impacts. These automatic cuts would slash another $500 billion from the defense budget on top of the $487 billion cut last year and $400 billion cut in 2009 and 2010.

Last year, Congress created a Supercommittee to find budget savings. It was just a clever way to kick the can down the road — and it was a fool’s errand that never had a chance. The hook was this: When the Supercommittee failed it would trigger the so-called “sequestration” cuts to automatically slash the defense budget. I’m the only member of the Montana congressional delegation to have voted against the short-sighted policy that put these cuts in motion.

Now, I’ve made some folks in my own party pretty upset because I don’t think defense spending should be off-limits for spending reductions. No government program is immune from waste and when you write blank checks you get $500 hammers and $1000 toilet seats.

But there’s a big difference between trimming waste and hanging our defenders out to dry. While defense spending accounts for about 20 percent of the federal budget, it has accounted for 50 percent of deficit reduction initiatives over the last year.

And sequestration is a step too far.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that sequestration cuts would be “catastrophic” to our nation’s military. The Navy and Air Force could lose their ability to adequately protect our skies and our shores. We also risk our ability to project power which allows us to engage the enemy on their turf instead of in our own back yard.

The Army and Marine Corps would have to pink slip about 200,000 soldiers, which is about the size of the entire Marine Corps. Future service members and current veterans could have their retirement pay significantly restructured — even delaying receipt and reducing earned benefits.

There are major threats to Montana as well.

Last November, Secretary Panetta warned Congressional leaders that sequestration cuts could force the elimination of the entire ICBM leg of the nuclear triad — including the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom.

And according to the nonpartisan Center for Security Policy, Montana stands to lose 1,953 jobs and take a hit to our gross state product of $82 million. We simply can’t afford that as we struggle to improve the economy.

With cuts this deep, we’re no longer cutting waste, we’re damaging our national security strategy. It’s hard to simply write that off as an accident in the context of other policy initiatives under the Obama administration. New START, for example, was a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia. It set warhead limits above what Russia already had but well below what the United States currently has — effectively allowing Russia to increase its arsenal while we must decrease ours.

Someone has to fight back, to stand up for the brave men and women who stand up for us on the battlefield.

I’ve invited my friend and colleague Congressman Randy Forbes, R-Va., to join me as a special guest in Great Falls for a listening session called Defending our Defenders. Randy is a Subcommittee Chairman on the House Armed Services Committee, and the things he hears in Montana will help him shape national policy in Washington, D.C.

The listening session is set for Monday, July 16 at 9 a.m. — although doors at the MSU College of Technology Heritage Hall will open at 8:30 a.m. We want to hear your stories and let you voice your opinion about these serious threats to our national security.

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