Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday warned that deep, automatic cuts to the military that result from last year's debt ceiling debate could cost the state about 14,000 jobs as the state's military industries lose contracts and lay off employees.
And U.S. Sen Lindsey Graham, who is proposing his own plan for what should be done, called on Congress and the president to spend an entire week in September addressing alternatives to the $1.2 trillion in cuts that will begin taking effect in January -- half to the military and half to domestic spending.
"Everything has to be on the table," he said. "This will be a death blow to our ability to defend ourselves."
The two made their comments along with S.C. Adjutant Gen. Robert Livingston and other state military leaders at an S.C. National Guard armory in Columbia, flanked by two U.S. Army Humvees.
"I'm killing myself trying to create jobs in the private sector every day," Haley said. "We're trying to bring companies every day and we're watching Congress turn around and undo everything I'm trying to do."
She pointed to a George Mason University study about the military cuts to each state's economy. It showed South Carolina losing 13,666 jobs and $307 million in earnings.
The Pentagon has already implemented $487 billion in cuts to take place over the next decade, due in part to the end of combat operations in Iraq and a proposed drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. But another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years could be required beginning Jan. 1 because of last year's debt-ceiling standoff in Congress and the failure of a congressional super committee to make $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions. That failure could trigger the automatic cuts called "sequestering" unless another method is found to reduce spending.
Graham has been on a crusade to bring the state's and the nation's attention to the dangers of sequestration, not only to the military but to domestic programs as well, especially in transportation and education. In June he conducted a campaign-like tour of the state, holding news conferences in six South Carolina cities and military installations.
He said Wednesday's press conference was the kickoff of a national effort by him to get Congress to act on sequestration by Election Day, Nov. 6. He called on Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, and Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader -- as well as a representative from the White House -- to dedicate a week in September "to allow differing views" to be aired and a compromise forged.
Personally, he said, he would advocate closing all tax deductions except home mortgages and charitable giving to generate revenue, a flat tax and reforms to Medicare and Medicaid as a way to offset the cuts. He also called on Congress to delay instituting sequestration for four months by finding temporary alternatives until a new Congress can be seated and a compromise forged.
Studies have shown that the military has a $16 billion a year economic impact on the state.
Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter and McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover pump $7.1 billion a year in total economic impact into the Midlands economy. That's $1 billion more than the estimated economic impact of Boeing on the Charleston area.
Military installations in and around Charleston add $4.7 billion a year to the state's economy. And Beaufort's three installations add $1.2 billion a year.
The cuts also are a threat to the Upstate, with its $2 billion a year in defense contracts held by companies that supply the military.
S.C. Comptroller Gen. Richard Eckstrom, who heads the state's Military Base Task Force, called the national debt cuts "a threat greater than 9/11," and sequestration of more concern than another round of base realignments and closings, called BRAC.
"The bases in South Carolina are facing threats well beyond BRAC," he said. "And unfortunately there is no easy fix."