If you want to understand what’s happening to the defense budget, don’t look at the topline. Look at how money is shifting among activities within the budget. When you track those shifts, it becomes apparent that military spending is a mirror of the larger economy. Investment is losing ground to consumption. Manufacturing is losing ground to services. Healthcare costs are rising inexorably. And money is draining out of “blue” states, into “red” states — going south, as they used to say. New England, one of the Democratic Party’s last electoral strongholds, is about to experience the latter trend with a vengeance in George W. Bush’s second term.
Budget analysts use the “perfect storm” metaphor too much, but maybe it’s no coincidence that the hurricanes in Sebastian Junger’s book of the same name occurred off the New England coast. Over the next four years, several budgetary gales will converge to lash the surviving shipyards and defense plants along New England’s rocky shore, leaving few survivors:
1. A Quadrennial Defense Review will ratify Navy plans to cut purchases of destroyers at Bath Iron Works in Maine, and submarines at Electric Boat in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Work on Arleigh Burke destroyers is winding down, and the administration is reducing funding for a follow-on DDX class. Plans to double production of Virginia-class attack subs have been deferred into the next decade, leaving Electric Boat with workload of only half a boat per year. The Navy estimates these shipyards will shed 34% of their workers by 2008.
2. Planned termination of the Navy’s F/A-18 fighter and the Air Force’s F/A-22 fighter will devastate the business base of the General Electric engine plant in Lynn, Massachusetts and the United Technologies engine plant near Hartford, Connecticut. Both companies have been scaling back their presence in New England for some time, and insiders say the demise of the F/A-18 could be the end of the road for GE’s aged Lynn facility.
3. A massive round of base closures will shutter the Brunswick naval air station and Portsmouth naval shipyards in Maine, while realigning activities away from the New London submarine base in Connecticut. With the focus of U.S. military operations shifting from Europe and the North Atlantic to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean littorals, there is less and less need for bases in the New England area.
Local Democrats will undoubtedly blame Republicans for the decline of New England’s defense sector. But if there’s a political angle to this sad story, it’s the anti-military, anti-business attitude that has pervaded regional political culture for a generation. Defense contractors like GE and Raytheon are exiting the area because taxes and regulatory burdens are too heavy. The military prefers to operate in places where it is honored rather than insulted. So the region is finally getting what some of its more strident liberals always seemed to want — a defense-less New England.
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