The politics of defense cuts

Politics can be fun… particularly when you win. It’s the governing part which comes afterward that’s hard. This is a lesson which may yet again become clear to Barack Obama if he makes good on his threat to veto any effort to forestall the cuts in defense spending which are looming on the horizon. Even though military spending is a favorite target of his base, the real world implications for his reelection effort may be dire. This is the point being made by Loren Thompson at Forbes this week, as he examines some of the places which rely heavily on jobs in the military industrial complex.

When President Obama visits Scranton, Pennsylvania, this week to talk about his jobs bill, one part of the economy he probably won’t be discussing is the military-industrial complex. Defense jobs have become a tough topic for him, because at the same time he is trying to increase employment for school teachers and construction workers, he is threatening to veto legislation that would prevent hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.

The cuts are required by the Budget Control Act that Obama signed in August, which stated that if a special congressional committee failed to find $1.2 trillion in budget savings, then military spending would automatically be reduced by $600 billion over the next ten years. That’s on top of $350 billion in Pentagon cuts already being implemented under the same law…

So even as the president pushes his jobs bill, hundreds of thousands of jobs in the military-industrial complex could soon disappear as a result of his position on deficit reduction. That stance might have strong support in some parts of the Democratic Party, but in Northeast Pennsylvania where Scranton is located it’s a pretty scary proposition. The Scranton area contains several sizable defense plants making items like high-tech helmets and smart bombs, and the biggest local employer is a nearby Army depot that repairs military electronics. If Obama sticks to his guns on budget cuts, that would be real bad news for Scranton’s economy.

Unfortunately for Obama, the Keystone State isn’t the only place this formula is in play. As Thompson notes, Obama only carried Florida with 50.9% of the vote in 2008. While Florida may be more popularly known for amusement parks, beaches and space centers, it is also home to several huge naval bases which support tens of thousands of jobs in the surrounding communities. You don’t even need to close one of those bases to produce a significant effect. Any sizable shrinkage in funding – and staffing – would send more workers to the unemployment lines in a state the president can ill afford to lose.

The list doesn’t end there. Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina and even Ohio are significant recipients of Washington largess when it comes to defense industry jobs, and each of them are in play next year. So even as some of Obama’s most ardent supporters may be cheering the “long overdue” cuts to our massive military complex, they could be baiting a trap that he won’t be able to avoid come election time.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on June 05, 2023