The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee says he understands that Washington has put the defense industry into a dire predicament, and he wants to rescue it -- now.
California Rep. Buck McKeon, having heard all the warnings from the big vendors and their allies, argued in a column Wednesday that the military-industrial-congressional complex can't wait until December to save the industry from sequestration. By the time Congress and the White House act -- or don't -- it may be too late.
Uncertainty emanating from Washington sends a clear signal to capital markets to move money elsewhere. In this case, production lines will close, skilled workers will be fired and investments in new capabilities will be drastically reduced. Large companies would likely consolidate and bring supply services in-house. Small businesses would be cut off from the defense supply chain. Fewer suppliers would lead to reduced competition and higher costs overall.The problem, he argues, are the dumb ol' smelly Democrats. President Obama says he wants to protect American manufacturing, but he never talks about the dangers of sequestration. The 1 million jobs it would destroy would completely offset the 1 million jobs the U.S. may have saved with its auto industry bailout, McKeon argues. House Republicans have already acted to at least postpone the danger, he said -- so where are the Dumbocrats? McKeon invoked one of the president's slogans in his concluding call-out:
These impacts are already being felt. The specter of sequestration alone is causing companies across the industry to lay off workers and postpone investments. Sequestration must be averted now because if we wait until the end of the year to fix it, it will already be too late for thousands of workers and their families who were laid off while Washington sat on its hands.
If we do not act to avert sequestration, we will inflict irreparable harm on our defense industrial base as a reliable and responsive provider of urgent wartime capabilities and erode its role as an indispensable strategic asset for the U.S.
If America's aerospace and defense industry doesn't have a place in an economy built to last, what industry does?The White House's response would probably be "Congress should do its work." And it would point out that McKeon voted for the legislation that created this mess, as did many other Republican defense advocates -- only to explain later that "they" (who?) told him the "super committee" couldn't fail. So he and hundreds of other lawmakers in both parties voted for a bill they opposed because someone "told" them it wouldn't actually take effect, then were surprised that it did. How, the White House might ask, is that the fault of anyone but Congress'?
It's time President Obama and his chief ally in the Senate, Harry Reid, step forward and offer a solution to sequestration instead of issuing veto threats or simply shrugging it off as a "tough pill to swallow." Our plans to fix this problem will differ, but it is time we put those plans on the table and get to work on solution.
Besides, McKeon obviously isn't actually ready to deal. His column is riven with contempt -- he might as well have written, "Hey, stupid, quit being a big idiot and get over here and let's have a reasoned negotiation." The messaging continues Republicans' effort to position themselves on the right side of history in case sequestration takes effect; we've already seen where New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte got the vice chiefs of the services to agree that Congress should act now instead of waiting. In a doomsday scenario, she and others will be able to look back and say they told us so. It's good politics for defense advocates, but so far it has enticed no Democrats to come around before Election Day.
McKeon's column also serves another important purpose for defense advocates: It keeps sequestration in part of the mainstream consciousness during a season in which many Americans tune politics all the way out. Summer is often a news vacuum that accepts anything that comes along, from shark attacks to Lindsay Lohan. As we've observed before, if defense boosters can grab some of that empty bandwidth now and sew the seeds for this winter's congressional battles, the public opinion harvest they reap could be what prevents -- or guarantees -- doomsday.