South Sound business and local government leaders on Tuesday gave U.S. Sen. Patty Murray a familiar story in the hope of staving off deep federal budget cuts that could slice the size of the Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“I don’t know how any business or organization can adjust to these staggering challenges,” said Joe Deck, a co-owner of Northwest Harley-Davidson in Lacey.
He and others have been raising the alarm about looming cuts to the military since last year, when the Army released a study that showed ways it might carve up military bases to meet the budget demands of forced congressional spending cuts known as sequestration.
In a worst-case scenario, JBLM would lose as many as 11,000 more soldiers and civilian positions. Pierce County Councilman Doug Richardson called the cuts a “meat cleaver” that would squander investment in JBLM.
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Murray, a Democrat from King County, is firmly opposed to sequestration.
“We just can’t afford that here,” she said during her visit to Clover Park Technical College.
Lawmakers wrote the cuts into a 2011 budget compromise that was meant to get them back to the table for a long-term deal. They’d cut as much as $500 billion in planned defense spending by 2024. But lawmakers have been delaying their full impact with short-term fixes that prop up military budgets.
The latest deal, brokered by Murray and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, would expire at the end of this year, triggering an accelerated drawdown in the size of the Army.
JBLM lost about 5,000 soldiers to a previous round of Army downsizing.
“If this happens again, it will be devastating to this community,” said Kevin Eaves, a leader in a government employee union whose members were subjected to furloughs in 2013 during previous sequestration cuts.
Pat Brewer, a representative from the Tacoma-Pierce County Association of Realtors, told Murray that uncertainty over defense spending has already led some military families to put off buying homes near JBLM.
Their testimony echoed concerns raised during an Army-hosted forum that drew more than 500 sequestration critics to Lakewood in January.
President Barack Obama’s proposed defense budget exceeds the spending allowed by sequestration. Murray last week submitted a budget amendment that would have repealed the cuts through 2016.
It failed, and Republican lawmakers have instead advanced a plan to shore up domestic defense spending with the account the Pentagon uses to pay for unexpected conflicts overseas.
That’s not ideal, said retired Maj. Gen. James Collins of Steilacoom. He said using war accounts to pay for regular expenses could make voters skeptical.
Collins called sequestration “blunt force trauma” for the federal budget, saying it crudely compels the military to reduce its footprint without accounting for strategic goals.