“Does it seem screwed up from a distance in Washington?,” Sen. Lindsey Graham asked members of the Easley Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon. “Does it? Well, it's worse when you get there.”
Graham spoke to members of the Easley Rotary Club Tuesday.
“What do you tell people when the Congress is at 12 percent approval rating?” Graham asked. “What do you say? Who are the 12 percent and what do they like, is what I say.”
Graham said he's been disappointed with how Congressional leaders have handled the issue of sequestration.
“Sequestration – in Latin, that means, 'Congress doing really dumb things,'” Graham said.
Graham voted against the Budget Control Act a year ago, but not because he was against spending reduction.
“It was because the way we chose to do it made no sense to me,” Graham said.
He said sequestration calls for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, with half of that amount coming from the Department of Defense. The other half of the $1.2 trillion cut would be across the board.
“We've already cut the Defense Department by $487 billion in the first round of the Budget Control Act,” Graham said. “My fear was, if they failed to reach consensus, the trillion in defense spending cuts over the next decade would create a hollow force.”
Graham said he assumed the supercommitee would fail in its tasks to come up with spending reductions on its own.
“It takes a cynical person to assume that Washington would fail, but I made that bet,” Graham said. “And now here we are – 10 days away (from sequestration).”
He spoke about a press conference President Obama conducted with first responders regarding sequestration
“First responders get hit hard, the CIA gets hit hard, the Department of Veterans Affairs get hits hard, the National Institutes of Health gets hit hard,” Graham said, of sequestration. “But the president shouldn't be campaigning – the election's over. Don't you think we should be in the White House, Republicans and Democrats at a table, where he's at the head of it, saying 'We're not going to leave this room until we fix this problem.' We don't need a campaigner-in-chief, we need a commander-in-chief.”
Sequestration would create the smallest US Navy since 1915.
“232 ships is what we would wind up with,” Graham said. “How do you pivot to Asia? Ronald Reagan wanted a 330-ship Navy, we're down to 285. You can do more with ships, but at 232 you really have lost the capacity to be present in the world.”
The Army would be “the smallest since 1940” under sequestration, he said.
“100,000 more on top of the 80,000 we've already taken out of the Army,” Graham said. “50 percent would come the Guard and the Reserves, and Lord knows the Guard and Reserves have been indispensable in the war terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Sequestration would stop the “modernization of the Air Force Fleet,” he said.
“The C-17 down in Charleston has been a great transport aircraft, but we're flying the wings off these things,” Graham said. “When these things rolled off the production line, no one envisioned Iraq and Afghanistan going as long as they have. So the utility of the airplane has been greatly reduced because of the flying hours. You've got young captains in the Air Force today that have more flying time than anybody in World War II.”
The F-15 and F-16 are hitting the end of their useful life, he said.
“Simply because they're non-stealth,” Graham said. “Air defenses are improving all over the world. The goal is to replace the F-15 and the F-16 with the F-35 and the F-22. I'm not looking for a fair fight, are you all? If we go to war, I want to have something nobody else has got and get the damn thing over with.”
New technologies are crucial, he said.
“The stealth technology we've got today really began in the nineties,” Graham said. “And the new generation of airplanes that we need are in production today. If sequestration hits, we'll have to break all those contracts.”
The economic impact of sequestration could be devastating both here in South Carolina and nationwide.
“Shaw Air Force Base will not get F-35s,” Graham said. “That could be the end of growth at Shaw Air Force Base. When it comes to Sumter County's economy, that could destroy that part of the state.”
Graham said sequestration will cause a 1.5 percent reduction in the country's GDP.
“It will increase unemployment, it will put a real dent in our military defense procurement system,” he said. “Defense contractors will have lay off about 80,000 people – and these are good high-paying jobs.”
He said cutting $1.2 trillion is “very achievable.”
And you can do it without destroying the Defense Department, NIH and other programs if you prioritize,” Graham said.
Graham said he hopes when sequestration starts, it will “wake Congress up.”
“It will have such an impact, it will wake the Congress up and we should get back to doing business the way we've done for 200 years – sitting in a room and solving our problems.”
In addition to sequestration's impact on the economy and defense, he says it sends the wrong message to America's enemies.
“What kind of signal does it send to the Iranians and all those who wish us ill to be unraveling the military at the time when we need it the most?” Graham said. “I am so disappointed in the Republican Party. The party of Ronald Reagan would never have allowed this to happen.
"The primary role of the federal government is to defend the nation. If we don't get the Department of Defense right, social security is hard to maintain without national security," he continued. "I know we're in debt. I know defense has to be on the table. But this idea that the Republican Party would put on the table such a draconian cut ... is an abandonment of the Ronald Reagan philosophy of peace through strength.”