WASHINGTON — Oklahoma lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin spoke out Wednesday against the automatic federal budget cuts set to take effect in January, while major defense contractors said they would have to give their workers advance notice about possible layoffs because of the uncertainty.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Congress and the administration can't wait until after the November elections to deal with the situation.
“The damage will be done by then and we will have put Americans out of work, wasted millions of dollars, further damaged our economy and put our national security in jeopardy,” said Inhofe, R-Tulsa.
The House approved a bill Wednesday calling on the Obama administration to explain how it will approach the budget reductions that will be triggered in January if Congress doesn't do something to delay or alter them.
The automatic cuts were a component of the deal struck by lawmakers and President Barack Obama last summer to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
That deal required more than $2 trillion in budget reductions over 10 years. About half have been put into effect in the form of new spending caps.
Another $1.2 trillion — spread out over a decade — are set to trigger on Jan. 2. The Department of Defense, which has already taken nearly $500 billion in cuts over 10 years, would bear another $500 billion over the decade if the automatic cuts aren't delayed or softened; the rest of the cuts would be spread out over other domestic programs.
Leaders from some of the nation's largest defense contractors warned a House committee on Wednesday that the cuts would lead to layoffs and delays in major weapons systems.
Robert J. Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation said “the near-term horizon is completely obscured by a fog of uncertainty … How many dedicated employees are going to lose their jobs? How many family lives are going to be disrupted?”
According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, about 3,200 Oklahomans work for defense contractors in the state. Those contractors include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Pratt and Whitney, Raytheon and others.
Oklahoma also has three Air Force bases, an Army post and an Army ammunition depot.
Fallin said, “If President Obama and Congress allow the proposed cuts to the military to take place, it will be a disaster … In Oklahoma, thousands of men and women in the defense and aerospace industries stand to lose their jobs, a development that would depress our economy while depriving the military of the productivity and expertise these workers provide.”
A study conducted by George Mason University in Virginia for the aerospace industry projected that about 2.1 million people — including 16,000 in Oklahoma — would lose their jobs in the next 15 months if the cuts go into effect.
Defense industry leaders said Wednesday that — because of a federal law requiring notice to employees of major layoffs — they expect to send out notices within 60 days of Jan. 2 — which would mean a few days before the November election.
Inhofe and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, were among the lawmakers who voted against the deal last summer.
But all five of Oklahoma's U.S. House members voted for the deal, and most are now warning of the consequences.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, called the automatic cuts “very bad policy” Wednesday and noted that the House had already voted this year to replace them with other reductions.
He and other Republicans blamed Democrats for the situation. Democrats have countered that the situation wouldn't exist if Republicans had simply raised the debt ceiling without demanding budget cuts.
And Democrats have suggested the budget cuts should be addressed at the same time as tax cuts that are set to expire. The president and Democrats in Congress want Republicans to agree to tax increases on top earners as a condition for altering the cuts.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Wednesday, “We should also deal with the revenue side of the equation if we're serious about the deficit.”