Friday, January 13, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Griffin gets his wish

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) has told constituents there are no sacred cows in the federal budget, and we believed him, until he started saying some of the cuts are going too far.

A fiscal conservative, he has proposed cutting social services, military spending, corporate welfare and other wasteful programs. He has said we must reduce spending without tax increases. But now that the first wave of cuts have been announced, Griffin is not too happy. Although he campaigned as a deficit hawk and a budget cutter in 2010, perhaps he was hoping the budget ax would bypass Arkansas.

Our freshman congressman is upset that the Air Force is canceling a $4.4 billion avionics contract for aging C-130s at Little Rock Air Force Base and elsewhere. He’s also unhappy that some 45 civilians are losing their jobs at the base. Sure it hurts, but where did he think the cuts would come from? From nutrition programs for poor mothers? From fuel subsidies in the Northeast? From cutting defense projects pushed by special interests in Washington? Who is and isn’t a special interest?

You can eliminate only so many fighter planes and nutrition programs before you have to start cutting across the board and going after sacred cows, including farm interests and rural post offices.

Members of the Arkansas congressional delegation have lashed out at the U.S. Agriculture Department for shutting down 16 Farm Services Agency offices in the state, including those in Pulaski and White counties, which happen to be in Griffin’s district. Arkansas will lose more of these farm offices than any other state.

The delegation also opposes closing up to one-third of Arkansas’ rural post offices, especially those in their districts. They’re quaint, all right, but when the postal service is losing $23 million day, post offices in Prim, Tilly, Ida and Fox can’t stay open much longer.

Griffin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, can’t have it both ways. You can’t get rid of programs everywhere but spare Arkansas. Sen. John McClellan might have prevented the worst of these cuts. But how much clout does a freshman congressman have in Washington? The state’s delegation can’t even keep the farm offices open. Former Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who lost her re-election bid, chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee and might have spared some of those offices, but Sen. John Boozman, her successor, has no more influence than Griffin.

Griffin has told chamber of commerce banquets, tea party meetings and other forums that the cuts will hurt, but he says they’re a necessary first step toward economic recovery. At last year’s Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce dinner, he called for dramatic spending cuts to reduce the nation’s $1.5 trillion deficit.

Ruling out tax increases to close the deficit and reduce the national debt, he told The Leader several times he would look for waste in the Pentagon budget and elsewhere. Be careful what you wish for: A shrinking military means fewer jobs and planes for Little Rock Air Force Base.

Even one cut hurts, Col. Mike Minihan, the outgoing commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, noted in an interview with The Leader this week. It’s not easy telling civilian workers on base they’re no longer needed, especially after they’ve devoted 20 years or more to serving their country.

When Griffin tells his constituents that the federal budget is out of control and must be reduced dramatically, you can’t overlook the obvious: People will lose their jobs. Boeing and Lockheed will lay people off if the avionics modernization program for older C-130s is axed. The same will happen when fighter jets and battleships are eliminated, or road and bridge work is halted for lack of money.

Earlier this month, Boeing announced it would close its plant in Wichita, Kan., where it has produced planes for the military for 80 years. Boeing officials said Pentagon cuts make it impossible to keep the sprawling plant open as military contracts dry up. Some 2,000 people could lose their jobs.

Sure, we’re in a crisis, but it’s foolish to think this was going to be painless. The economy is still sputtering, and there will be more plant closings and layoffs.

So far we’ve been spared the worst cuts here: The air base has received four of the five upgraded C-130s, and another is scheduled for delivery. In these difficult times, five upgraded C-130s are better than none.

In addition, more modern C-130Js will arrive in the coming years, but don’t be surprised if those deliveries are slowed. President Obama said Friday that all defense contracts are under review.

Deficit reductions are serious business. To save a trillion dollars for defense in the next decade — that’s a thousand billion dollars, if you want to do the math — our military will shrink dramatically.

When Rep. Griffin says there are no sacred cows, even if he’s having second thoughts, we know exactly what he means.