Exactly one year ago, Moody's put the states of Maryland and Virginia, as well as several municipalities in Northern Virginia, on its "watchlist." It wasn't anything they had done -- rather, it was because their economies depend on federal defense spending.
Congress and President Obama, having failed to agree on serious deficit reduction, instead agreed on a "sequestration" -- $492 billion to be cut indiscriminately from the Defense Department budget over the next ten years. It will be triggered automatically on Jan. 1, 2013, if nothing is done to stop it.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called such indiscriminate cuts the "biggest threat" to the U.S. military. If they kick in, the U.S. would be left with its smallest ground force since World War II and its smallest Navy since before World War I. The sudden termination of contracts for next-generation fighter planes, bombers and ballistic missile submarines could be irrevocable, threatening national security.
Sequestration also threatens the local economy. Last fall, Dr. Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis, warned the Joint Armed Services Committee that 92,691 defense-related jobs would be lost in Northern Virginia alone. And since major federal contractors are required to give a 60-day notice if they're planning future layoffs, Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin says layoff notices will likely be sent to the "vast majority" of its 123,000 employees the week before Election Day.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., wants the Senate to vote on an alternate sequestration plan passed by the House in May. President Obama has threatened to veto that alternative because it cuts social welfare programs instead of raising taxes. "We can't wait until January ... [or] until the lame-duck session to do this," an exasperated McKeon told Politico.
He's right. The Pentagon should not be immune to budget cuts -- no agency should. But the scheduled cuts may slash muscle and crush bone without even touching the fat. If Obama finds that unconvincing, here is a language he's more likely to understand: If he wants to carry Virginia again in this year's election, he had best heed the warnings of his own defense secretary and compromise with McKeon.