Defense Cuts Would Cripple Va. Economy, Leaders Warn

CHESAPEAKE

If Congress doesn’t stop $1 trillion in automatic budget reductions set to begin unrolling in January, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia will see such dramatic cutbacks that a statewide recession is likely, a public policy expert warned Monday night.

Professor Stephen Fuller of George Mason University told more than 500 people at a congressional listening session that the deep cuts, including about $500 billion in defense cuts, would be “devastating,” given that 10 cents of every defense dollar is spent in the commonwealth.

“These would be enough to drive the economy into a recession in 2013,” Fuller said, noting that 20 percent of all the jobs in Virginia are dependent on military spending.

Fuller was among several speakers who voiced concern about the automatic budget cuts Monday at the first of several special meetings set up by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, and other members of the House Armed Services Committee. The nationwide “Defending Our Defenders” tour aims to raise awareness about the impending automatic defense cuts, as well as the $487 billion the Obama administration has proposed to cut at the Pentagon over five years.

The $1 trillion in cuts were set in motion after congressional negotiators failed late last year to approve a plan to cut the federal deficit. When no agreement was reached, the law approved by Congress required that the cuts be made in the budget,half of the amount coming from defense and the other half from social programs.

“The purpose of this tour is not to say ‘What is the best way to fix it?’ but to say ‘What are the repercussions if these cuts actually came to be?’ ” Forbes said before the two-hour session began in the Chesapeake Conference Center. The problem today,he said, is that the impact of the automatic cuts is not being discussed in Washington. He was joined by U.S. Reps. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, and Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland County, both members of the armed services panel.

While Forbes and others have argued that the cuts would hinder the nation’s ability to defend itself and protect its interests, many of the speakers Monday night were more focused on concerns about the direct impact on the region’s economy.

Small-business owners, defense contractors and economic-development leaders all warned that the cuts would cost thousands of government and private-sector jobs as the federal dollars dried up.

“It will essentially stop outside investment in Hampton Roads,” said Deborah Stearns, chairwoman of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

“What we’re talking about today is real eye-opening…. This is scary stuff,” Eric Rivard, who works for the photo studio Lifetouch in Chesapeake, told the crowd. “Tell your neighbors…. Tell your friends…. Help us save our community and our state.”

Norfolk attorney Kevin Cosgrove said the audience and the three congressmen need to remember that the root of the problem isn’t the automatic spending cuts locked in place last year by Congress.

The problem is a $15.7 trillion federal debt that is growing every year because leaders continue to borrow hundreds of billions every year to pay for federal spending, he said.

Cosgrove told the crowd that even if Congress finds a way to avoid the military cuts this year, it will not solve the problem until it deals with the rising national debt.

“If we don’t,” he said, “we’re just going to be back here next year and the year after.”

Bill Bartel, 757-446-2398, bill.bartel@pilotonline.com

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