Governor Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham appeared with other Republican officials at a National Guard armory in Columbia Wednesday as they pushed for Congress to reach a deal to avoid automatic cuts to the military.
Those cuts– known as “sequestration”– would take $500 billion out of the national defense budget over the next 10 years. A similar amount would also be cut from domestic spending. Graham said, when combined with $478 billion that has already been cut, the move would gut national defense.
Under the Budget Control Act passed last summer, the automatic cuts are required after a so-called “supercommittee” failed to reach $1.2 trillion in debt reduction.
“Sequestration in Latin means ‘dumb politicians destroying defense,’ Graham told reporters Wednesday, “A 13-14 percent approval rating in Congress I think is being richly earned.”
It is a very sensitive issue in South Carolina, which is home to six military installations. Several government watchdog groups such as the Project on Government Oversight have already pointed to F-35B fighters at a Beaufort air station and the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site as likely targets if sequestration happens.
Gov. Nikki Haley said nearly 14,000 jobs would be lost in South Carolina should the cuts happen. She said that number would be split between military personnel and defense contractors. “We are a very patriotic state,” she said Monday, “We are the home of Fort Jackson. We are the home of Parris Island… the home of Shaw Air Force Base. This can’t happen to South Carolina.”
Haley’s husband, Michael, is in the South Carolina National Guard. He will be deployed to Afghanistan in January.
In fact, Adjutant General Robert Livingston warns the cuts would have an unintended impact on National Guard and Reserve troops. Livingston says those part-time military members have already increased their combat roles over the past 10 years to fill in for other branches which have scaled back since the Cold War.
“We’re going to have to cut, not in a systematic manner, but in almost a panic mode,” he said. “We can’t take this cut… and still provide the level of quality service that we provide the people of the United States.”
Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom is head of the state’s Military Base Task Force, which was formed 20 years ago to help protect South Carolina from the last round of military base closures. He and Graham agreed that a steadily increasing national debt makes defense cuts inevitable.
“We will see cuts. There is absolutely no way around cuts,” Eckstrom said, “The question is how those cuts will be made.”
Graham said he hopes Congress can reach a temporary deal before year’s end to stave off sequestration. He called on Senate leaders to set aside a week in September to debate the issue. He said he was working with a “handful” of other senators to reach a compromise that would increase some revenue by closing tax loopholes in exchange for smaller defense cuts.