Batten down the hatches! This week, Barack Obama joined the growing list of national security officials forecasting dire risks to the country's defenses if $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts are allowed to take effect March 1. In a speech on Tuesday at Virginia's largest industrial employer, Newport News Shipbuilding, the president said sequestration would damage the nation's economy and naval readiness. "The threat of these cuts has caused the Navy to cancel the deployment or delay the repair of aircraft carriers," he said. "Another might not get finished. Another might not get started at all."
The remarks added to a media blitz by officials including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who've offered a range of doomsday prophecies if Congress allows the automatic spending cuts known as "sequestration" to take effect.
Politically, the warnings are designed to ostracize Republicans who refuse to raise government revenues in a deal to avoid sequestration. But in practice, the dire predictions have come under scrutiny from independent and partisan critics who argue that they're baseless, or at least exaggerated. In other cases, Republicans have joined the chorus of warnings about specific earmarks in GOP-controlled districts going on the chopping block. So what's the nation supposedly in store for?
In an overlooked alert, the Obama administration warned that sequestration could force a 25-percent reduction in what the Coast Guard does, "including everything from setting navigational aids to fighting drug smuggling and illegal aliens." Of course, the threat of drug smuggling has been used before -- and not in the most convincing way. In its Office of Management and Budget sequestration report, the White House warned that the National Drug Intelligence Center would lose $2 million of its $20 million budget. But it turned out, embarrassingly, that the National Drug Intelligence Center wasn't even functioning anymore -- it was closed on June 15, 2012.
The threat of hazardous meats jeopardizing the nation's security has entered the sequestration fray thanks to a Republican on the House Agriculture Committee. Last week, Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warning of the risk to consumers if sequestration forces furloughs of meat inspectors. "This decision, if implemented, could disrupt the flow of commerce and the lives of millions of Americans, starting with meat and poultry industry and ending at America's dinner table," Conaway said. "According to the American Meat Institute, furloughing FSIS inspectors is estimated to cost $10 billion in production losses to the industry. This industry and American consumers depend on the services provided by FSIS inspectors to ensure a safe and healthy food supply."