U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham warned of dire consequences to Charleston’s military presence — specifically predicting hits to the Air Force Base and the high-tech installation SPAWAR — if mandatory military budget cuts go through next year.
“All the C-17s we have out on the ramp, they wouldn’t be needed because the Army is going to be so small,” Graham said during a press conference Tuesday.
He added, “From a Navy point of view, SPAWAR would cease to exist because the modernization money, the money to give you the weapons of the future ... would be the first to go.”
Graham’s comments came as part of a media tour designed to bring attention to mandatory federal budget reductions set to begin Jan. 1.
After Congress’ so-called “supercommittee” failed to enact bi-partisan reductions, the resulting 2011 Budget Control Act created “sequestration provisions” or triggered across-the-board cuts in domestic and military spending. The total sought is $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
Graham contended that when the $497 billion defense cut provisions are combined with $487 billion in cuts President Obama has already put forward, Pentagon spending will be cut by nearly $1 trillion, seriously harming the military.
And unless that course is reversed, Graham said it spells bad news for the state, Charleston and its neighboring military towns, which will lose jobs, residents and contracts as a result.
“It would be damning and the end of the Department of Defense footprint (here) as we know it,” he said.
He already has a catchphrase for the cuts, calling them “BRAC on steroids,” a reference to Congress’ base closure and realignment efforts.
Graham’s comments came during a press conference at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. Joining him were the mayors of Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant, plus Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor. All pledged their support.
“The last department I would cut is the safety issues, police and fire,” said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, making a budgeting parallel.
“The worst thing we could do is across-the-board cuts in the Defense Department,” added Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.
In addition to Charleston, South Carolina has a huge military presence, spanning from the Marines in Beaufort to the Army in Fort Jackson and the Air Force in Sumter. The statewide economic impact is more than $13 billion annually.
Charleston has one of the stronger holdings in the state, with Joint Base Charleston home to 20,172 employees working in more than 50 commands.
Graham said his solution is to not give up the reduced spending target, but to do it in a way that doesn’t rely so heavily on the military. Some of the options he favored were reduced federal hiring, certain benefits and cutting waste.
For instance, he suggested hiring only two replacement employees for every three who retire.
“Congress is known for doing some pretty dumb things,” Graham added about the defense cuts. “This, for me, takes the cake.”
Graham isn’t alone in trying to stave off the cuts. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that as is currently forecast, the numbers would severely weaken the nation’s readiness.
Graham added that he wants to get the effort moving and done before the election.
“You can’t punt everything into a lame duck,” he said.