Earlier this week, the United States Army released a report on the impact of future budget cuts. For Georgia, it’s a sobering wake-up call that the effects of last year’s budget impasse and sequestration are not over. An Atlanta whistleblower set to testify next week in the ongoing Veterans Administration scandal also turns up the heat on military issues.

For Georgia, “future budget uncertainty” issues highlighted by the report total roughly $1.7 billion lost annually in the worst-case scenario. While that worst-case scenario involves sequestration cuts considered unlikely, the potential must be taken seriously. For Army-dependent communities like Columbus, the scenario is frightening, the other services would likely be impacted as well.

Politically, it highlights the loss of Congressional influence facing Georgia with the retirement of Senator Saxby Chambliss and his seat on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman Jack Kingston is Georgia’s senior federal legislator with nearly 22 years in Washington; whether that length of service is viewed as a positive by voters will be seen in his runoff election for the Senate against businessman David Perdue, who has criticized Kingston’s service, both for its length, and for the number of appropriations Kingston has brought to Georgia. Left unsaid in Perdue’s criticism of Kingston for legislative “earmarks” was that much of the total attributable to Kingston’s requests involved funds for Georgia military bases.

For his part, Kingston this week toured Georgia military installations with the message that he will seek a seat on the Armed Services Committee if elected to the senior chamber. Kingston told the crowd at his campaign stop in Warner Robins that if he wins the Senate seat, his 22 years of seniority will follow him to the Senate.

While the military’s economic influence on Metro Atlanta has declined since the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closures cost three of the region’s four military stations, local executives in Cobb County started rallying around Dobbins earlier this year. From the Atlanta Business Chronicle in March:

A committee of executives formed by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce is putting together a campaign to educate military officials and Georgia’s congressional delegation on Dobbins’ importance both to the military and the local economy.

“It’s a huge economic engine,” said David Connell, president and CEO of the Cobb Chamber. “If it closed down, it would take a long, long time to recover.”

[Secretary of Defense Chuck] Hagel announced Feb. 24 that he would ask Congress in 2017 to identify a new list of bases for closure.

“The reality of reduced resources and a challenging and changing strategic environment requires us to prioritize and make difficult choices,” Hagel said during a Pentagon news conference. “We cannot fully achieve our goals for overhead reductions without cutting unnecessary and costly infrastructure.”

For most of the twentieth century, the seniority system in Congress paid dividends to the Peach State under Rep. Carl Vinson, who Chaired House Armed Services for 14 years, and Senators Richard Russell and Sam Nunn, who combined for 27 years as Chair of Senate Armed Services.

If none of the three Congressmen (Kingston, Broun, and Gingrey) return to Washington, Georgia will shed 42 years combined seniority in the House, as well as Chambliss’s seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, putting Georgia’s military installations at greater risk of playing a reduced role in the military of the future as it is being reshaped by the Obama Administration.

Defense spending is a two-edged sword for a Georgia politician, with some ideologically-driven Tea Party voters and politicans wary of federal spending even if it benefits their local economy, while more pragmatic voters see a need to protect local spending on defense.

The Eleventh Congressional District features a similar dynamic in the runoff between former state Senator Barry Loudermilk, of Bartow County, and former Congressman Bob Barr, who represented much of Cobb County from 1993 to 2005. Barr has touted a promise by House Speaker John Boehner that Barr will retain eight years of seniority if he returns to Washington, which may be valuable when the 2017 round of base realignment and closure casts its eyes on Georgia. Loudermilk for his part has said he will not support Boehner for Speaker, criticizing the Speaker’s handling of budget issues.

[Disclaimer: the author has been employed by the Bob Barr campaign for Congress in the 11th District.]



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