Leading S.C. Republicans say national defense cuts would cripple state
COLUMBIA — A group of leading S.C. Republicans warned Wednesday that a reckoning is coming to the Palmetto State unless Congress averts looming cuts to federal defense spending.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the nation would be put at grave risk if the cuts go through next year, and the state would stand to lose 14,000 military and defense-related jobs.
Gov. Nikki Haley said that loss could add up to $800 million in lost earnings in South Carolina, which already has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
“I am killing myself trying to create jobs for the private sector every day,” she said. “We are trying to bring companies every day, and we are watching Congress turn around and undo everything I’m trying to do.”
Haley said the military is a core function of government and is “the one thing you never cut.”
Her husband, Michael, is a S.C. National Guard member and will begin a year-long deployment to Afghanistan in January.
A reduction of $110 billion in military and domestic spending will kick in Jan. 2 unless Congress can reach a deal to avoid triggering cuts known as “sequestration.”
The Budget Control Act was triggered after a congressional panel last year failed to agree on a budget-reduction plan. The act calls for slashing spending by $1.2 billion over 10 years, with more than $500 million of that coming from defense.
Haley said the cuts simply “can’t happen” to South Carolina, a state with a major military presence.
More than 22,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian jobs are connected to the military in the Charleston area alone.
Beaufort, Fort Jackson and Sumter also have significant military holdings.
Haley and Graham spoke Wednesday at a press conference held in the Bluff Road Armory near Williams-Brice Stadium. They were joined by S.C. National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Bob Livingston and Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom.
It was hardly the first time Graham has spoken of the disaster awaiting South Carolina and the country if the cuts go through.
It’s the same warning he’s been sounding for months. He traversed the state in late May, saying the C-17s at Joint Base Charleston could be first on the chopping block if the cuts were to materialize.
“If this happens, it won’t be because we didn’t tell you about it,” he said Wednesday.
Graham said chances are slim that Congress can reach a deficit-reduction deal to avoid the cuts before the Nov. 2 election.
He lambasted President Obama as “AWOL at a time we need him most” but also leveled unusually strong shots at his own party.
“We have our fingerprints all over this bill. It was the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate that agreed to sequestration in the event the supercommittee failed,” Graham said. “What happened to the party of Ronald Reagan? Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave right now.”
Graham said he’s working with a bipartisan group of senators to come up with a spending-reduction package that would delay the military cuts for at least four months by eliminating some tax deductions.
He called on Senate leaders to dedicate a week next month to discussion of alternatives to the cuts, and said Obama or at least a representative should take part.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the cuts would be a disaster for the military.
“It would be a national disgrace for the Congress not to fix the problem,” Graham said. “We will lose the edge and people will die because Congress failed to do its job.”
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.