Despite repeated prompting, the Lockheed witness, CEO Robert Stevens, could not identify a single contract that would be terminated, nor specify the number of workers that would be laid off. All he really had was more rhetoric: "devastating," "undermining the aerospace industrial base," and then "catastrophic" and "meat axe," again borrowed from Panetta. Even though he did not know what contracts would actually be affected or how, he nevertheless insisted that he would need to send out those thousands and thousands of pink slip warnings just before the elections.
Another major witness, EADS North America CEO Sean O'Keefe, was not even sure of that. The closest he got to warning of pink slip notices was saying that EADS "will have to do something." He was clearly not entirely on board with Lockheed and McKeon. The president of Pratt and Whitney, David Hess, was even less helpful; he didn't really know what the law requires or what he would do; it was all "not clear." A small-business contractor, Della Williams, president of Williams-Pyro in Fort Worth, Texas, volunteered that her company was "not covered" by the WARN Act. Not exactly the clarion call McKeon and Lockheed wanted to broadcast.
They were lucky no one asked them about the schedule the WARN Act actually requires or the number of jobs that the $55 billion sequester might actually take out of defense production. Some sharp reporting by Bloomberg and some skeptical analysis by a former OMB official at Washington's Stimson Center have cast serious doubt on both the concocted requirement to send pink slip warnings just before the elections and about the real number of jobs that $55 billion less in Pentagon spending next year would incur. The Bloomberg story explained that the notices, when required, would not be called for until well after the elections, and Gordon Adams at Stimson made clear that the job numbers in question were wantonly inflated by including thousands upon thousands of employees who do no defense work.
Nor did the witnesses get to what the budget sequester would actually mean to the Pentagon, if it occurs. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it would reduce Department of Defense "base" spending, not including additional war spending, to $469 billion. That amount, also according to CBO, would return the Pentagon to the 2006 level of spending, adjusted for inflation. In historic terms, Pentagon spending would therefore remain about $35 billion above its average Cold War level, and it would stay as much as $100 billion above the low points that followed previous high spending periods, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars and the Reagan era. Finally, it should be noted, the level of spending, not including additional war spending, would still be more than twice the combined defense budgets of China, Russia, Syria, North Korea, and Iran.
There are problems with the sequester. The cuts would be abrupt, and -- according to some -- they might have to occur automatically across various selected accounts, perhaps even individual programs. But those are not the elements that the plaintiffs are primarily concerned about. They are concerned about the amount of money -- and the truth is the amount left by the sequester is historically generous. But to McKeon, Cheney, Lockheed, Panetta, and the other hysterics, these data mean nothing. Unfortunately for them, the chasm between their rhetoric and the facts has become so gigantic that people in Washington are actually beginning to notice.