Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The biggest election issue you've never heard of

With just 40 days left until the presidential election, Americans must begin to decide what candidate they will vote for.  More importantly, they must decide why.

Issues such as abortion, gay marriage and job creation have all been hot topics in the 2012 election.  But there is another issue looming just over three months away, an issue that many people have never even heard of.  This issue could lead to thousands of jobs lost in Maryland alone, said BusinessweekAnother study found that 2.14 million jobs could be lost.  Why have so few people heard out this?

The issue I’m talking about it sequestration.

Sequestration came about when a bipartisan super committee was established last year to solve the debt crisis and cut $1.5 trillion from the budget.  If it failed, $1.2 trillion would automatically be cut from the budget.  Half would come from Democrat-valued entitlement spending, such as Medicare and Medicaid.  The other half would come from Republican-valued defense spending.  The super committee did not reach an agreement, so those automatic cuts will take place on January 2, 2013.  This is sequestration.

While both programs will receive budget cuts, the Department of Defense (DoD) cuts are much greater as a percent of total spending.  No one quite knows where the cuts will be made and people are concerned.

I recently spoke with a young woman who works at a large defense contractor about sequestration.  Because of the sensitive nature of her job and the topic at hand, she asked to remain anonymous.

The defense contractor where she works has had three layoffs in the last year and a half in preparation for these cuts.  Each time, the company lost between 500 and 800 employees.  There are rumors in her company that another large round of layoffs will happen early next year.

The work left behind by these former employees does not go away, though.  Those lucky enough to keep their jobs have to pick up the slack.  They get no overtime and many employees have not seen a raise in years.

“Every division gets a 2 percent (raise),” she said. Two percent is a cost of living increase. “So if somebody gets a raise that’s more than 2 percent, it’s because someone gets a raise that’s less than 2 percent. I know a lot of people that have gotten no raises.”

The young woman, who voted for Obama in 2008, has a lot of uncertainly when it comes to her 2012 vote.  There are issues in the election that she cares about passionately, but those issues don’t directly impact her life on a day-to-day basis.

“You’re almost voting with your job in mind,” she said.  The woman and her husband both work at the same defense contractor.  One hundred percent of their family income comes from the company, which is not uncommon at the company where she works.

Outgoing Lockheed Martin CEO Robert J. Stevens has been very vocal about sequestration.  In a statement before the House Armed Services Committee, Stevens said, "We fear our industry - which is a crown jewel of the American economy - will suffer a loss of learning, a depletion of talent, and erosion in quality."

Other big-dog defense contractors like Northrop Grumman and Boeing will also see hard hits.  In Stevens’ testimony, he stated that sequestration would lead to about half a trillion dollars in cuts on top of the cuts put in place by the Budget Control Act.

DoD cuts wouldn’t affect war spending or soldier salaries.  In fact, sequestration doesn’t allow that money to be cut.  All money would come from procurement, the young woman said, and she is most concerned about cyber security and national debt.

“If someone wanted to cripple our country, they could delete all bank records and no one would know how much money they’re supposed to have,” she said.  “I don’t have any paper records.  I couldn’t prove how much I have in my 401k.” These are the kinds of jobs that could be cut in January.

So what is the solution?  Not this, she said.

“Sequestration means my husband or I could lose our jobs.  It would mean that people that I work with will lose their jobs.”  In each layoff, someone who worked for her was laid off.  Often the employees were talented and had worked at the company for 20 years or longer.

“Being an engineer was always a very safe career,” she said.  “But maybe not.”

What do you think of sequestration?  How do you think it will impact the 2012 election?  Join in the conversation in the comment section below!


  1. This is an interesting drill down on what "defense spending cuts" really entail. While these cuts are usually heralded as a major way to fix out debt/deficit, politicians rarely mention specifics on how to make those cuts. I don't think this will be a major election issue, because no one wants to remind the public of the failure to reach an agreement. And if they do mention it, either party will just mention the cuts they like or blame the other party for the cuts they don't like. These jobs are unfortunate casualties of "compromising is weakness".

  2. Well. Said. Now post election let's see if it is only our soldier's that have courage.