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Originally published November 13, 2012 at 4:40 PM | Page modified November 13, 2012 at 4:40 PM

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Op-ed: Fiscal cliff would kneecap our military

The fiscal cliff is bad news for Washington state, where sequestration would throttle defense and commercial aerospace work, writes guest columnist Mark Blondin.

Special to The Times

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THE gridlock in Congress has gotten so bad, most people don’t even notice it anymore — like people who live next to train tracks and never hear the noise. But the stakes are so high with the sequestration budget cuts, the so-called fiscal cliff, no one can afford to ignore it.

Sequestration means a trillion dollars in automatic cuts to defense and other budgets that kick in on Jan. 2. Economists have said these cuts, plus the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, will kill off fiscal recovery and toss us over a fiscal cliff back into another recession. That’s especially bad news for Washington state, where sequestration would throttle defense and commercial aerospace work that has been critical to economic strength.

Few dispute that a trillion-dollar budget sequester would be catastrophic. Defense Department official Brett Lambert describes it as “fiscal castration,” while Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says it could be a “disaster” for the Department of Defense. Cuts to nondefense programs would also wreak havoc on our economy and social-safety net.

The left urges an infusion of federal dollars to accelerate economic recovery, yet has been strangely silent about the defense jobs that will be lost under sequestration. The right decries federal spending, yet points at looming job losses if defense spending should ever be cut. Meanwhile, limited defense funds keep getting poured into endless land wars in the Middle East — costing us dearly in blood and treasure, yet making limited contributions to our long-term stability and strength.

When it comes to economic investments, it’s time to acknowledge that a lost job is a lost job, whether it’s a teacher or a machinist tooling military airplane parts. A teacher or manufacturing worker whose job gets sequestered can’t just pack up their family, learn the skills for another job, and get hired, especially in this fragile recovery.

Stopping sequestration should not be a partisan issue. Economists of all stripes have long recognized the need for fiscal injections to offset damage caused by the recession. In June, The New York Times reported that 706,000 public-sector workers have lost their jobs since the peak of the recession in 2009. Sequestration could pile another 2 million lost jobs on top of that number.

The harm will flow down through the ranks of our military and out into the community businesses and residents whose economies are interconnected with our military operations.

For example, Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the largest employer in Tacoma-Pierce County with more than 52,000 jobs, generating more than $350 million in new construction work each year. Asked how sequestration would affect the base this year, all its commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. could say is, “We’re hoping for the best.” For a critical driver of the local economy and American national security, that’s simply not good enough.

If these cuts would make our nation stronger, that would be one thing. But the opposite is true — bipartisan national-security experts call the sequester indefensible and warn it will leave the U.S. military unable to implement effectively any credible national-security strategy. Today’s Navy, for example, is a powerful statement of our military prowess. But if sequestration isn’t stopped, the naval fleet will shrink. National security isn’t a choice; it’s a bipartisan obligation, one that the sequester breaches.

If these consequences sound scary, that’s because they are. These cuts were designed to be so terrifying they would force Democrats and Republicans to do almost anything to prevent them. Before the guillotine falls in less than two months, Congress must remember that stopping sequestration is neither a choice between cutting defense or cutting social services, nor a partisan talking point. It’s a choice between crippling our economy and kneecapping our military, or saving them.

Mark Blondin is general vice president of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.

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