COLUMBUS, GA - Congressman Sanford Bishop calls it "the sword" once poised over a special congressional budget "super committee" charged with cutting $1.2 trillion in federal discretionary spending.
That sword was raised back in 2011 when the federal government was hitting its "debt limit" and needed drastic action. It appointed a super committee to find big cuts in spending.
Keeping the partisan members of that bipartisan committee at the bargaining table was this threat: If they failed, then on Jan. 2, 2013, the $1.2 trillion in cuts would be automatic and across the board, slicing military spending as well as social programs.
The committee failed and left the sword hanging.
Congress' Budget Control Act, which set up that super committee, also mandated a $487 billion cut in federal defense spending over 10 years. The defense budget for the 2012 fiscal year was $518.1 billion, with an additional $115.1 billion for what are called "overseas contingency operations," the armed conflicts in which troops already are engaged.
If Congress fails to reach another budget compromise before Jan. 2, the automatic cuts set up to supersede the super committee will trigger, and the sword will fall.
About half of that $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending the committee was supposed to carve out goes to the Department of Defense, which over 10 years will face an additional $492 billion in cuts.
That combined with Budget Control Act cuts already in place could butcher America's military readiness and bludgeon economies relying on military bases, Bishop and Georgia's two senators told area business and civic leaders Monday at the National Infantry Museum.
Bishop said estimates indicate the cuts could kill 38,700 jobs in Georgia, which ranks fifth in the United States in military facilities.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said every contractor at Fort Benning could lose 20 percent of its business there.
"The impact at the community level, we believe, is just now being learned," he said.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said national leaders recognize that cuts must be made, but across-the-board reductions won't account for what's superfluous spending and what's necessary, like a cost-benefit analysis would. "It's a poison pill nobody needs to swallow," he said.
When the three took questions, Dick Nurnberg got up and noted Bishop, Chambliss and Isakson are in the Congress that caused all this, and now they're appealing to the public for help. "What can we do?" Nurnberg asked.
Let Congress know you'll accept a budget compromise, they said. "We've got to have an outpouring from the public," said Bishop.
He said partisan polarization has led politicians to take entrenched positions from which they refuse to budge, rejecting outright any proposal that doesn't meet their demands. "The word 'compromise' is a bad word," he said.
Isakson said constituents should write to their leaders this election year.
Chambliss said the government must examine all available options to deal with its $16 trillion debt, looking at entitlements, defense cuts and revenues. If it does what it has to, no one will go unscathed, he said: "If you don't feel pain, we haven't done our job."