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A fatal 'box canyon' for the G.O.P.?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Fred Grandy is one of the smartest – and certainly most respected men – in Washington. He achieved that reputation the old fashioned way: He earned it as a former Congressman, successful non-profit business executive and long-time top-rated talk radio show. So when he warns Republicans that they have entered a potentially fatal “box canyon,” they should listen.


In conversations on the “Secure Freedom Radio” show we co-host, Fred has been warning for some time about the Budget Control Act of 2011. He has described it as the legislative equivalent for his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill as a box canyon, meaning the sort of naturally occurring, dead-ending geological formation used by Indians and desperados in the Wild West to trap and snare their prey.

Pursuant to that act, either 1) a congressional “supercommittee” would come up with $1.2 trillion in cuts or 2) reductions in that amount will be achieved through automatic cuts – half from domestic discretionary spending, half from the Pentagon’s budget.

Fred Grandy’s point is that, by agreeing to this deal, as a practical matter, Republicans allowed themselves to be fatally boxed in: Either they would have to accede to Democrats’ demands that taxes be raised. Or they would share responsibility for the meat ax that would indiscriminately cut $600 billion across the board from the country’s national security capabilities.

The former is now foreclosed. And the latter would have particularly devastating effects – “catastrophic” is the term being used by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff – because they would not be the first cuts. Rather, they would come on top of roughly half-a-trillion dollars in Pentagon funding reductions already in the pipeline.


The cumulative effect will essentially eliminate the modernization of the armed services’ aging fleets of aircraft, ground vehicles, ships and other weapons. They will preclude much of the research and development needed to ensure our forces can deter – or at least compete effectively with – tomorrow’s threats.

The reductions imposed via the so-called sequestration mechanism (which Mr. Panetta has called a “doomsday machine”) will also adversely affect the refurbishing of existing, worn-out equipment. It will require further contraction of military bases, ports, airfields and depots and the defense industrial base and its suppliers. And the services’ respective “end-strengths” – the numbers of personnel in uniform – will be cut, perhaps dramatically.

By some estimates, there will be a loss over a million jobs just on the civilian side. Those aren’t “shovel-ready” jobs; those are actual, generally high-paying jobs that people are currently performing to help keep our people safe and free. Add hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard personnel who will be forced out of uniform and may wind up out of work and, in some cases, homeless, and you have a serious additional burden on our economy and society.

Factor in the likely impact of the cuts now in prospect on the military’s pensions, benefits and health care system and the stakes get even higher. These represent commitments we have made to our men and women in uniform – past and present – that have enabled us to have an all-volunteer force. Break with those commitments and it is predictable that that kind of force may cease to be viable.


Democrats and others on the Left who have long seen the U.S. military as an instrument of American imperialism and a danger to international peace have been only too happy to drive Republicans into a box canyon with such results. But what are we to make of those in the GOP who seem willing to go there – to the point of embracing the sequestration process’ automatic cuts that would eviscerate our defense capabilities?

In the interest of avoiding any increase in revenues – read taxes – which is rightly seen as a key part of the GOP “brand,” they are prepared to abandon the party’s credibility for responsible stewardship of the national security. It is far from clear how this plays politically.

Here’s my bet: More of the women, independents and Reagan Democrats upon whom the effort to replace Barack Obama critically depends will be alienated – not attracted – by two perceptions: 1) that conservatives are, on the one hand, indifferent to the need to both cut spending and raise revenue in the present crisis, and 2) that Republicans are now to the left of Leon Panetta on providing for the common defense.

One thing is sure: No one should delude themselves that we can slip out of the box canyon by repealing or otherwise revising the sequestration mechanism’s defense budget cuts sometime next year. The Democrats in the Senate are unlikely to go along. President Obama says he’ll veto any such legislative relief.


The problem is that, even if those obstacles could be overcome next year, the reality is that the Pentagon is going to have to make plans and change programs on the basis of what is the law now – not what might be enacted later. That means grievous harm will be done to our ability to protect our country, people and interests at the very moment that threats to them are growing exponentially.

For all of our sakes, Republicans have to find their way out of the box canyon. That way lies with burnishing, not abandoning, their national security credentials and forging a governing majority rooted in the Reagan philosophy of “peace through strength.”

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