Defense cuts could cost Oklahoma 16,000 jobs

July 20, 2012

The state of Oklahoma stands to lose 8,000 defense-related jobs (and a total of 16,000 jobs) if the U.S. Congress fails to reverse a $500-billion spending cut to the Department of Defense, The Daily Oklahoman noted in an editorial this week.

IF you think our country's hurting now, wait another 5 ½ months. As became clearer this week, the combination of tax increases and massive, automatic budget cuts scheduled to hit in 2013 will deliver the sort of blow to our economy that could take years to overcome. ...

These cuts are looming because last year, Congress and the president agreed to slash spending by $2 trillion over 10 years as part of a deal to raise the nation's borrowing limit. Roughly half of the cuts went into effect immediately. An additional $1.2 trillion in cuts is scheduled to go into effect in January — with $500 billion of those hitting the Department of Defense, after a congressional “supercommittee” failed to agree on how to spread the cuts among many agencies.

Worse, the administration plans not to directly alert those who are in line to lose their jobs until after the November election. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has rightly decried this kind of politicking from the president. Speaking on the Senate floor this week, Inhofe said:

I have every reason to believe, because I’ve heard from people in industry, that the president of the United States is trying to get them to avoid sending pink slips out until after the Nov. 7 election. I would remind him that we have something called the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the WARN Act. It requires these companies to give 60 days’ notice of pending layoffs.

Since sequestration will take place on Jan. 2, these workers must be notified of their pink slip by Nov. 2. This is what I’d like to remind those companies: They don’t have to wait. If they want to notify workers today, they can do that. I think it is imperative that the workers who are going to be laid off work as a result of the Obama sequestration be notified in advance of the November election. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.

As Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has pointed out in the past, no area of government should be immune to the quest to cut waste -- not even the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, these cuts don't exactly qualify as a part of "the quest to cut waste." In fact, they were never even supposed to take effect: Congressional compromisers wrote them into the Budget Control Act to spur the so-called "supercommittee" to meaningful action. Had the supercommittee succeeded in its task to identify $1.2 trillion in cuts elsewhere, the DOD -- and, by extension, 16,000 Oklahomans -- would not face this hit.

For all the publicity defense spending receives, it actually doesn't even come close to consuming the largest proportion of the federal budget. The United States spends five times more money on entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- than it does on defense. Those programs are headed for insolvency, with unfunded liabilities of $100 trillion. (Its impending insolvency is just one reason we here at OCPA think the state should opt not to expand Medicaid under the president's healthcare law.)

Hmm ... Massive entitlement programs and a shrinking military. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal draws the connection:

Mr. Obama's policy choices are turning America into an entitlement state with a shrinking military—in other words, Europe. The U.S. would be left with the smallest Navy since World War I, the smallest ground forces in 70 years, and at just over 2.5% of GDP the smallest defense budget since Pearl Harbor.

It's understandable that legislators at every level of government would want to use their power to tax and spend to fund every well-intentioned project they perceive as unable to be completed without state dollars -- projects like Obamacare or a certain non-governmental entity in our state. If legislators would serve us well, though, they would hew to the responsibilities outlined for them in the U.S. and state constitutions. At the federal level, that means "providing for the common defense." At the state level, it means providing core services like law enforcement.

As we point out in our proposed state budget, "If policymakers focus on providing core services, government can be smaller and taxes can be lower."

The coming defense cuts are an example of legislators subordinating a legitimate purpose of government to projects that arguably could be performed better by the private sector.