Consequences Of The Federal Budget Crisis And One Conservative Congressional District’s Resistance To Spending Cuts

Lately there is a lot of buzz in western and northwestern Arkansas about the future of the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard based in Fort Smith. Some say it may be closed by 2013; the victim of vicious budget cuts in the Department of Defense. Still others believe its mission will be changed and it’s A-10 Warthogs replaced by drones. In any event, change is on the horizon for the Air National Guard in Arkansas and there is a very good reason why.

A few years ago, during the midterm elections, the Tea Party was riding a wave of popularity across the nation and conservatives in every corner of America where calling on Republican hopefuls and congressional veterans alike to stand in the way of President Obama’s agenda at every turn. The Tea Partiers were very successful in ramping up support for Republicans and the GOP managed to take back the House of Representatives. The problem was that the new Tea Party backed Republicans did everything they promised to do; they stood in the way of virtually every measure that was important to the Obama administration and the Democrats in general.

As a result of the Tea Party Republican’s obstructionism, several bills that could have bettered America have been killed. There have even been attempts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, more famously dubbed by Tea Partiers as “Obamacare,” even before it before it into effect. Most recently, the Republican Congress failed to reach a budget compromise and as a result several cuts must take place across the board and, most notably, within the DOD.  How ironic is it that the Republican Bastion, Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District, is crying out for the Air Force to spare the 188th?

Why does the DOD need to be cut? Well, at a time when the United States makes up nearly half of all global military spending, nearly seven times more than the next biggest spender, China, we have to look at cutting the DOD if we are to take the fiscal conservatives seriously in their demands to cut spending. Furthermore, if the Tea Partiers are so adamant that we not make the rich pay their fair share of the tax burden, then we must make the cuts more substantial.  After all, at a time of economic peril how much sense does it make to spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined does on theirs?

The fact is, we are a nation that cannot pay our bills and we have become ever more dependent upon loans from countries such as China; a country that isn’t too interested in helping America retain its position as sole global superpower. We have to be realistic when it comes to defense spending and we must understand that the Cold War ended over twenty years ago. Not only do we have to cut spending around the nation by cutting back on units at home such as the 188th, but we must also look at closing overseas bases. The Air Force alone still has several functional bases spread throughout Europe that appear to be postured to counter a Soviet threat that no longer exists.

As things stand now, however, the 188th seems likely to receive a new mission rather than face closure. It appears the 188th may be shifting to a drone mission rather than continuing their current A-10 mission. The new mission, if such a new mission actually comes to fruition, will result in massive personnel cuts within the Fort Smith unit but it will ensure theystill have a role to play in the Air Force for several more decades.  Anyone who has watched the news in the past few years knows that drones are the wave of the future in the Air Force whereas the Air Force has been toying with eliminating the A-10 from its inventory for several years.

In the end there will, no doubt, be several folks in the Fort Smith area who will lose their jobs as a result of the proposed restructuring. I hope that the Republican voters of Arkansas’ 3rd District now see that the obstructionist tactics used by the Tea Party supported Republican Representatives affect real people in their own district. I hope that they will understand that the fact we have fought two wars while the taxes needed to pay for those wars were cut by then-President George W. Bush. Combined with less government regulation of the banks on Wall Street, these Republican actions led to the economic crises which, as nonsensical as it sounds, spurred the feelings of angst against president Obama that fueled the Tea Party in the first place.

Above all, I hope that the 188th does transition to a new drone mission. I hope that the silver lining in this mess is that Fort Smith will continue to be home to a unit that has a cutting edge mission, ensuring an Air Force presence there for many generations to come. Furthermore, I am ecstatic that the 188th’s proposed new role in the Air Force’s restructuring plan will not only help bring our defense spending under control but also serve ensure further continuance of the community’s proud tradition of military service albeit with less personnel.

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