Monday, June 11, 2012
Looking out at San Diego’s magnificent bay, you can see why it is such a desirable spot for the Navy. Admiral James Johnson, President of SDMAC, a group that lobbies for military interests in San Diego, said about a quarter of the region’s wages come from federal defense spending.
San Diego’s economy depends heavily on federal military spending, so it’s not surprising a Super PAC to oppose military budget cuts has launched here. San Diego may not suffer significantly under defense cuts in the budget. But the battle will be fierce if bigger cuts, known as “sequestration,” are triggered by Congress’ failure to agree.
“We’ve got a little over 100,000 active duty men and women in uniform,” he said, “roughly evenly split between the Navy and the Marine Corps. Plus about 25,000 civilian jobs.”
Johnson said those people are directly employed by the Department of Defense. Then when you add in the people supporting and supplying those people, he said, SDMAC calculates about 350,000 jobs in San Diego depend directly and indirectly on military spending.
Even though the military is being asked to absorb more than $400 billion in cuts nationwide over the next decade, Johnson said San Diego could see gains.
“If you look at what the guidance says,” he said, “it focuses on Asia Pacific. That favors San Diego. You can’t execute that strategy without using a lot of the assets that are in the San Diego region.“
Because the U.S. strategy is shifting 60 percent of Navy assets to the West Coast, San Diego should do better than other communities with big military installations under the current proposed budget. However, if “sequestration” happens next spring, San Diego would be hurt more than other communities, because so much of its economy is dependent on the military.
Sequestration has been triggered by Congress’s inability to reach consensus on how to reduce the federal deficit. It would mean a 10 percent across–the-board cut, starting in January 2013, adding up to $500 billion in additional cuts to defense spending over 10 years.
Frank Hewitt, head of the San Diego Chapter of the National Defense Industry Association, said he thinks sequestration is a hammer waiting to fall.
“There are a lot of companies that are cutting their indirect workforce in order to position themselves to weather that storm,” he said. “So I would expect layoffs in larger numbers from some of the larger companies.”
Hewitt said his company, Intellisolutions, is well positioned to weather the storm because it is handling international telecommunications infrastructure for SPAWAR in San Diego. But, he said, some small companies could be harder hit by sequestration than big companies like SAIC, General Dynamics, or Cubic. He said the Department of Defense may decide to close some production lines in order to protect others.
“Those impacts could be felt then by the supporting small business contractors,” Hewitt said. “Those subcontractors to the major prime contractor who are doing those major programs: ship building and things like that.”
Former San Diego Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and a group of retired military recently launched a national Super PAC in San Diego, called “Fight 4 America.” It is raising money to air TV ads opposing defense cuts.
The ads target President Barack Obama with statements like, “When America is strong, our future is secure. But Barack Obama is taking the wind out of our military,” and, “ Now is not the time to cut defense spending Mr. President, not now.”
But San Diego Democratic Congresswoman Susan Davis said it’s not the president who is responsible for Congress’s failure to reach consensus, and that’s what is triggering sequestration.
“What worries me,” Davis said, “whenever you have scary tactics that people chose to employ, because they can fund it with dollars that are not traceable, we’re not hearing the full side of this. These Super PACS can do what they want, nobody is accountable. So they can say this is all the president’s fault or an effort only by one party rather than another. We know that that’s not true.”
Davis, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, said she is fighting to make sure service members’ pay and benefits are not cut. But she said there are other ways to cut military spending without compromising national security.
“We see that many of our colleagues say, ‘we don’t want to touch defense,’ well, I don’t want to touch defense either,” Davis said, “ but in order to not touch defense, everything else needs to go.”
Davis said, in order to stay strong, the U.S. needs to keep funding other things like education, transportation and energy.
A man who is very familiar with the ebbs and flows of federal funding is Greg Knoll of San Diego’s Legal Aid Society.
“The budget often gets balanced on the backs of poor, elderly disabled and the middle class,” Knoll said. “Do we want to provide health care for people, do we want to help the elderly, the disabled and the children on the streets… do we care about that group?”
Knoll said he’s seeing more and more people becoming disenfranchised.
“They don’t have the mother’s milk of politics, which is money,” he said, “so they’ll never have a Super PAC.”
The budget that Congress is debating right now includes cuts to things like food stamps, school lunch programs and housing assistance.
While the defense budget could hurt other regions, Davis said it does include a small pay raise for military personnel and almost $300 million in military construction projects for San Diego.
“Here in San Diego,” she said, “we need to fight hard for those areas where we feel we could not afford to cut, and there are some. And yet there are other areas where we could look and say, ‘OK, this is not as important as something else.’”
Meanwhile, Hunter said even the budget that Congress is considering right now takes too many resources from the military. A spokesman for the Fight 4 America Super PAC said ads attacking Obama will start airing in September.