Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Saturday he would end the budget sequester requiring automatic defense and domestic spending cuts if he became president, a critical issue in South Carolina, a state with a large military economy and site of the first primary in the South.
Walker, who is weighing a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, quickly said yes when asked if he would reverse the automatic cuts due to take effect in October. “There’s no way we can adequately fund the defense budget under the sequester,” Walker said in an interview with McClatchy.
He also would end the automatic cuts for domestic programs. “The reason the sequester is there is they needed to do something to get things under control between a Republican House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president,” Walker said. “That was the best that could be done under the circumstances.”
South Carolina officials are deeply concerned about the impact of the automatic cuts.
Eight military bases, as well as thousands of defense contractors, are responsible for about $16 billion to the state economy annually. More than 11,000 civilians work for the military in the state, including 3,500 at Fort Jackson. It also has another 3,500 active duty military employees.
Fort Jackson is the nation’s biggest training base, sending out 70,000 soldiers last year. It also serves 421,000 veterans in the state, half over 65. Its annual impact on the Midlands part of the state is about $2 billion.
While officials believe Fort Jackson’s stature could insulate it somewhat from cuts, there’s still a widespread feeling reductions are coming.
The Army has asked 30 of its largest bases to gauge the impact of cuts to the local economy. Not only is funding affected by the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but by the sequester that would go into effect later this year unless Congress acts.
The automatic cuts were enacted in 2011 after Congress and the White House were unable to agree on spending reductions to dramatically curb the nation’s escalating debt. The plan was aimed at cutting $1.2 trillion over 10 years from anticipated spending on discretionary programs, or those under legislative control. That means annual cuts of about $109 billion and about half is to come from defense.
Pentagon officials warned the cuts would create a “readiness crisis.” The sequester’s impact was eased under a December, 2013, bipartisan agreement, but that only stretches through the end of this fiscal year Sept. 30.
Instead of a sequester, Walker’s plan for reducing spending involves sending federal functions back to the states. His key example was Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the poor.
“I’d send Medicaid back as a block grant without strings attached,” he said. “We could make it work more effectively and efficiently.”:
The 2010 Affordable Care Act expanded eligibility for Medicaid, and Washington offered states federal money to help. In future years, though, that federal aid diminishes, meaning states have to come up with ways to make the program more efficient.
Congress is now considering a fiscal 2016 budget, and there’s some hope lawmakers can reach a deal that once again eases the sequester.
Walker said he’d model his budget along the lines of those urged by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served in that post under President George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Gates has said the military needs a more modern strategy, urging a blend of conventional and unconventional tactics for what he has called “complex, hybrid warfare.”
If he became president, Walker would face the challenge of working with a bitterly polarized Congress. No problem, he said.
In his campaign, Walker said he would “really lay out a blueprint for how to govern in America,” a plan that would include big changes to how government operates.
He’d urge lawmakers to “do it early,” so that people can see how changes are working, and ultimately support them.