U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, at left, discusses the ramifications of federal budget cuts set to start Jan. 2, 2013, with Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard, center, and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Atlanta. The senators and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, met with local officials on Aug. 6, 2012, to explain how the cuts would adversely impact programs, including the military.
ALBANY, Ga. — With what U.S. House District 2 Rep. Sanford Bishop called "D-Day" approaching, Bishop and Georgia's two U.S. senators — Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, and Johnny Isakson, R-Atlanta — urged Albany citizens Monday to let Congress know their feelings about the pending "sequestration" that threatens the nation's defense budget.
That concept, a buzz word for $1.2 trillion in mandatory discretionary funding cuts drawn into budget legislation passed last year, would, according to Isakson, have a "crippling" impact on Georgia communities like Albany whose economies rely heavily on military installations.
"If Congress allows sequestration to take place, there is the potential for our military to be hollowed out like it's never been hollowed out before," Chambliss said. "Defense Secretary (Leon) Panetta has said we need to cut the defense budget with a scalpel and not a meat ax, but sequestration is a meat ax."
After Congress' so-called "Super Committee" failed last year to come up with $1.2 trillion in cuts to the nation's budget, a "trigger" that was part of the 2011 Budget Control Act was activated that, on Jan. 2, 2013, would mandate that amount in cuts be imposed on top of cuts required by a freeze on spending at 2011 levels.
That trigger — sequestration, a concept Bishop, D-Albany, said was intended as a "sword over the Super Committee's head" — would make deep cuts in discretionary spending, 50 percent of which includes the budget of the Department of Defense.
"If sequestration is allowed to take place, I can see cuts of up to 20 percent in every military contract," Chambliss, an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. "If that happens, I see huge layoffs, huge financial losses. A study by George Mason University concluded that the Department of Defense would lose 800,000 jobs under sequestration, 28,000 of those in Georgia."
Retired Maj. Gen. David Bockel, the executive director of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Coordinating Committee, said Monday that Georgia has the fifth-most military installations in the nation.
Chambliss and Isakson are conducting meetings like the one held Monday at the downtown Government Center in all of the state's cities that are homes to military installations, and Bishop said he joined his Congressional colleagues for the meeting here to present a unified, bipartisan front.
"Unfortunately, I'm not as comfortable with the trend (in support of budget compromise) of some members of Congress as I'd like to be," the 2nd District Congressman said. "What we hope is that they see the consequences (of sequestration) if they don't work to come up with a plan everyone can live with.
"If everyone would concentrate on doing what they were elected to do, we could put our fiscal house in order. But, unfortunately, compromise is an ugly word for some. Those are the people who won't agree to anything unless they get their way 100 percent, even if it means paralyzing our government."
Chambliss offered a list of options Congress can consider:
- Let sequestration kick in;
- Delay the cuts by six months to a year but then "be back here in a year with the same story;"
- Come up with ways outside defense cuts to offset the $1.2 trillion in cuts;
- Return to the "Grand Bargain" suggested by the so-called "Gang of Six" — a bipartisan group, of which Chambliss was a member — that suggested cuts that he said "address every single one of these issues."
Isakson said a letter of support for the principles of the Grand Bargain had begun making its way through the Senate, and it had been signed by 23 Democratic and 23 Republican senators.
"We're not here today to talk about not cutting $1.2 trillion from the nation's budget," the junior senator said. "We're here to talk about responsibility. Sequestration is nothing more than a penalty for Congress not doing what it is supposed to do.
"At a meeting last week, the prime minister of Australia said America is one balanced budget away from returning to pre-eminence. I believe that, but it's going to take a coalition of Democrats and Republicans."
Bishop said the military cuts brought on by sequestration would have a "ripple effect" throughout communities like Albany.
"These cuts are simply unacceptable," he said. "Our armed services, our military personnel and our veterans deserve better. But the cuts will not just impact our military. The ripple effect will impact our farmers and our ag sector, and teachers, police officers and others in the civilian work force."