Word from Capitol Hill is that some members of the House Republican Conference have been unsettled by the strong public reaction to air-traffic delays brought on by sequestration. Until recently, sequestration was an abstraction, a philosophical debating point that had no real-world consequences, Now, though, people are beginning to feel the pain. On the defense side, training hours are way down, maintenance is being deferred, and contracts are not being renewed. On the domestic side, inspectors, managers, park rangers and just about everyone else is seeing a reduction in hours (and income).
But this really is just the beginning, especially in the defense sector. Roughly a quarter of the Pentagon budget — and a third of this year’s sequestration cuts — involve technology activities that take some time to ripple through the economy. When the Pentagon is given budget authority for military pay, most of that money ends up being spent within a year. However, when the budget authority is for weapons purchases, only a fraction of it is spent the first year. The same is true of cuts to budget authority for weapons — they take years to be fully felt. However, we now know those cuts are coming.
If you combine the fast-acting cuts to items like base support and maintenance with the delayed impacts like weapons procurement, the outlook for defense is a constantly worsening erosion from sequestration as this fiscal year and the next progress. The pain should be pretty intense by late next year — just in time for midterm elections. That has to worry GOP supporters of sequestration, since most of the nation’s major military bases are concentrated in the Republican heartland of the South and Midwest. It only takes a turnover of 17 or so seats before the Republican majority in the lower chamber is gone.
Pundits often point out that most of the seats on either side of the aisle are “safe.” But when you only hold the chamber by a handful of seats, you always have to worry about the midterms — especially if your party has backed into supporting measures the public doesn’t like. And that’s where House Republicans will find themselves come November of 2014. Sequestration, which once seemed like such a straightforward way of cutting the deficit, will become a burden at the polls. By that time, the annual deficit will be down to three-percent of GDP, and voters will be asking why Republican representatives thought it was necessary to visit such fiscal carnage on their local base or defense plant.
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