By Jennifer Rizzo
A House Armed Services Committee member is taking the obscure concept of "sequestration" to the streets, kicking off a nationwide tour Monday to discuss the potential $1 trillion in automatic cuts threatening the defense budget.
"The impact of looming defense cuts would be catastrophic to our military, communities and veterans. If no action is taken by January 1st," Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia, said in a press release. "I look forward to seeing firsthand how sequestration will impact Virginia installations and hear how these cuts will affect local communities."
The Department of Defense already is required to cut $400 billion from its budget as part of an agreement that allowed President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling. The same deal created a congressional "super committee" tasked to find more than a trillion in government savings over the next decade, although no solution was reached. If Obama and Congress cannot come to agreement on where the cuts should come from, another $600 billion would automatically be axed from the defense budget. The automatic cuts are referred to as sequestration.
The "Defending our Defenders" tour, which begins in Chesapeake, Virginia is being billed as a "listening session" where attendants can share their stories, ask questions, and voice their opinions on how massive cuts to the defense budget would impact their communities.
But some see an ulterior motive in the tour - using it as a platform to argue against the cuts.
"I regard it as pure electoral politics," said defense budget expert Winslow Wheeler, a proponent of cuts to the budget. "They're going to try to make defense spending a significant issue in the presidential campaign and they're trying to paint Obama and the Democrats as against defense because they don't support enough money."
Forbes and others on the House Armed Services have come out hard against the cuts.
"The biggest concern is we're moving dangerously close to a point where we'll no longer be able to guarantee the security of the United States or U.S. interests and I think that's something the American people don't want us to do," Forbes said in an interview on CNN last week.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey both have warned that the cuts would be catastrophic, leaving the military with a hollowed-out force.
"House Republican members on the defense committees are very concerned about sequestration and they are trying to push a wider discussion," said defense budget analyst Mackenzie Eaglen, with the conservative group American Enterprise Institute.
Eaglen says that for most people outside the capital, the notion of sequestration is not understood.
"Right now there is no discussion good or bad generally speaking outside Washington about sequestration so any conversation about it right now is a good thing," she said. "It's the law of the land and it is going to remain that way unless it is changed. This is exactly the kind of input that members should consider if they want to do that."
More than 1,500 people are expected to attend the event Monday evening, according to Forbes' office.
Forbes will be joined by other Armed Services Committee members on the tour, which continues next week with stops in San Diego on May 22 and Pensacola, Florida, on May 24. Both cities have large military communities.