Looming fiscal cliff threatens to strike after the presidential election

By John Keller
Posted by John Keller

The so-called fiscal cliff of sequestration , which threatens to take a deep gouge of nearly half a billion dollars out of the U.S. defense budget over the next 10 years, is still as much of a threat today as it ever was, but you'd never know it with so much media attention riveted on the presidential election.

Strange this fiscal cliff has not been more of an issue in either the Romney or Obama campaigns. This ticking time bomb, initiated by a Congress that's much more concerned with partisan political trivia than with the faltering U.S. economy, because this legislative device threatens hundreds of thousands of American jobs, as well as U.S. military preparedness.

Sequestration threatens to lop off $1.2 trillion from about 1,200 federal programs over the next decade. Moreover, sequestration threatens to make these cuts in indiscriminate ways that have the potential to hurt people and programs in brutal ways.

Sequestration was set up by Congress to trigger automatic deep cuts in federal spending in early January if lawmakers are unable to agree on more-controlled spending drawdowns. This proposed remedy is so severe that it reminds me of incidents during the Vietnam War when soldiers said they had to destroy villages in order to save them.

It was absurd then, and the sequestration approach is absurd now. Indiscriminate and abrupt cuts in federal spending will cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to lose their jobs, but consider the long-term ramifications of that.

Imagine the private businesses that provide goods and services today to those people who could be out of a job before the end of this calendar year. What happens when those laid-off people have to cut their household budgets drastically just to survive. How many businesses would be forced to close as a result of big reductions in disposable income?

No congressman or senator who had a hand in any vote that authorized this sequestration monster deserves your vote on November 6.

Not one.

Remember that, also, when the senators not facing the voters this year come up for re-election.

Those in the House and Senate should have thought of this, but they didn't, because sequestration was never supposed to happen. Instead, it was supposed to be "incentive" for members of Congress to work together to head off this disaster.

No deal has been hammered out, thus far, to head this off. When and if sequestration hits, the resulting pain and suffering of thousands of Americans will make us forget quickly about the trivial campaign issues dominating media attention leading up to the election -- things like contraception, Big Bird, binders of women, and perceived glass ceilings.

One might think that Congress and the Obama Administration might act with some sort of a sense of urgency as the sequestration deadline creeps closer, but instead the issue simply has become ever-more politicized.

If the law were to be followed, thousands of U.S. defense industry employees would receive layoff notices the Friday before the presidential election on 6 Nov. Oh but we can't have that, can we? While the law says defense contractors must notify employees at least 60 days before layoffs take effect, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

In response to pressure from the Obama Administration, Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest defense contractor, in early October backed down from plans to issue layoff warnings to employees just before the November election.

The Obama administration has, company leaders said, gave them assurances that it won’t immediately kill any major defense contracts when automatic spending cuts go into effect in January.

This will solve nothing. If sequestration hits, some defense programs will be reduced or eliminated, defense employees will be laid off, and unemployment will start rising immediately. Delay only might keep some otherwise angry defense employees from taking their frustrations out in the voting booth.

In short, we face a mess that won't go away from ignoring it. This willful denial of what needs to be done for too long is what got into this in the first place.

Here's hoping that, whoever wins the presidential election in November, that Congress will do something -- anything -- to stop sequestration during a lame-duck session. How hard can it be? Members of Congress, after all, are experts at kicking the can down the road.

If they don't, then whoever is sworn in as president in January will face a monumental catastrophe.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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