July 10th, 2012
01:09 PM ET

Threat of defense cuts a fear factor on campaign trail

By Jennifer Rizzo and Chris Lawrence

As John Polacek walks through his western Pennsylvania factory, he waves to the people that work for him. But don't call them employees.

"We don't hire an employee. We hire a family, and that's the way we like to treat them," Polacek said. "They want jobs for life here. They're not going to move on until the next guy gives him a pay raise. They're here because they like working here. They like the fact that they are saving American lives doing the defense work that they are doing here."

JWF Industries is a military subcontractor. It makes parts for vehicles like Humvees and Strykers that get manufactured by larger companies like Lockheed Martin or BAE. Polacek employs 450 people, but he's worried some will be out of a job beginning next year if the Defense Department has to cut more from its budget.

The Pentagon is already required to cut nearly $500 billion 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 dollars in government savings over the next decade, but no solution was reached.

If Obama and Congress cannot come to agreement on where the cuts should come from, another $500 billion would automatically be axed from the defense budget in a process referred to as sequestration.

If a massive cut like that happens, Polacek is worried the little guys will be hurt the most.

"It's the first tier subcontractors like us that are going to feel the impact, and these guys may not be here come January because of that," he said. "The impact to this town is a lot more brutal than it will be down in the beltway of Washington, D.C., because there are fewer jobs available here for these people to go get.

Johnstown, a manufacturing town in western Pennsylvania, was once at the heart of the booming steel industry. With that industry mostly gone since the 1970s, the local economy is struggling to hold on to the jobs they have left. As of the 2010 Census, Johnstown's median income was only $24,819, half of the national median income.

It's numbers like those that make the term "sequestration," which was already hard on the ears, even uglier for lawmakers up for election in their home districts. Major contractors like Lockheed Martin have warned they are obligated to put out notices this fall to the employees that if a deal is not reached by the year's end, thousands may be laid off.

Its timing, right before the November election, has made it into a major campaign issue in towns like Johnstown across the country where military contractors are major employers.

"If you have defense contractors who are looking at their defense contracts and wondering if they're going to get paid, then obviously they're all concerned," said Republican candidate Keith Rothfus.

In Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, which includes Johnstown, Rothfus has come out hard against the Democrat in office, Rep. Mark Critz, accusing him of not doing enough to make sure the automatic cuts do not happen. The district is no stranger to defense contractors, having been the home of John Murtha, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Critz's response is to ask how could his opponent do any more than he has done.

"I would ask, 'OK, how? Tell me how,'" Critz said. "Just because he's not part of the conversation doesn't mean we're not doing something. We are working on this diligently."

Critz, who's on the House Armed Services Committee, said the problem of the across-the-board cuts is being discussed every day.

"What happens to the big guys sort of trickles down to all their subcontractors, and that's where the issue really is," Critz said. "If this is 80% of their business and they go away ... it's not like turning on a light switch, that when they go away you just turn the light switch back on when you need them."

For John Polacek the time for finding a solution is running out. He will have to send out layoff notices if Congress cannot come up with an alternative to the cuts before the end of the year. He calls the back and forth between the two parties political posturing.

"It's the Democrats and the Republicans on both sides of the aisle in gridlock. No one wants to meet in the middle," he said. "You stand a very good chance of hundreds of thousands of Americans being laid off come January because they just can't meet in the middle and say, 'Let's do what's best for America. Let's do what's best for these little town like Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and other places around the country.'"

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  9. Norah Whitlach

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  10. Anne

    What are you stating, man? I reazlie everyones got their own view, but really? Listen, your website is cool. I like the work you put into it, specifically with the vids and the pics. But, come on. Theres gotta be a better way to say this, a way that doesnt make it seem like everyone here is stupid!

    August 1, 2012 at 1:00 am | Reply
  11. Traci

    All of you who are agreeing with the trillion dollar cuts in defense need to actually read what it is going to actually cut. The defense budget only makes up 20% of the deficit the Department of Defense contributes 50% of the reduction. The budget cut is going to raise the troops and there families TRICARE by 345% in the next 5yrs. Money that goes to update equipment it keep our soldiers safe, is going to be reduced. Promises made to the soldiers upon enlistment are being change. Hmmmm wow promise made by the govt being broken, this seems to be a repeat in history, treaties made treaties broken And as China is becoming a super power that is putting more money into the military, I would hope that America spends more.
    As an Army wife I can only hope the govt finds a better way, so my husband and the million other soldiers will get what was promised them and that they can remain safe when doing the duty they have promised and kept.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  12. lance

    america needs to stop policing the world and start fixing its dilapidated infrastructure system and manufacturing sectors. we needs to cut defense and focus on this countrys economy and flood of legal / illegal immigration stealing american jobs.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  13. Jannani

    Comparison with other countries
    The 2009 U.S. military budget accounts for approximately 40% of global arms spending. The 2012 budget is 6-7 times larger than the $106 billions of the military budget of China, and is more than the next twenty largest military spenders combined.

    July 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  14. Jannani

    Budget breakdown for 2012
    Total Spending $1.030–$1.415 trillion

    July 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  15. sandcanyongal

    The United States government, military and greedy vendors are all using our young men and women to forcibly conquer, occupy and to be used as human shields to grab Iraq's, Afghanistan's, natural resources and have set up long term oil reserves. Those countries hate America and I don't blame them. Our country is killing their citizens like they are just trash in their way.

    Our Declaration of Independence say the ALL men are created equal, and this mean all men in the world, not just the people in the U.S. I'm disgusted by our country and the fact that no one will do a thing about it.

    July 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  16. DJ

    Those of use that depend on Defense Contractor Jobs would not take kindly to the opinions posted on this site. However that is why I spent 22yrs in the Military to preserve your freedom to voice your opinions, I just don't agree with them!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  17. Phunnie boy

    Gee whiz, the very thought of D.O.D. cutbacks have me shaking in my shoes, it does, it does! How in the world are we going to finance all these glorious wars that we're in? And how are all these D.O.D. contractors going to fatten up their hugh bank accounts? Fortunately for them. that'll never happen since most of the politicians in Washington want to be politically correct and stay the course!!!!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply
  18. rooster

    Its all a lot of fearmongering. defense contractors want as much of the tax dollars pie as they can get. the amount of expenditures on defense after the cuts will be equal to 2007 levels, and the gop was quite happy with those levels at that time. in fact the gop should be happy that more people will have a trillion dollars in their pockets to spend thus creating jobs and creating economic prosperity.

    July 11, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
  19. Richard

    I'm a DoD contractor and not a fan of the sequestration measures that may be in place. In fact, I'm sure this will happen, as the two political parties cannot, and will not, agree on anything. The sad part is that all branches of the service have not even started realizing what this is going to do to their capabilities. And it won't matter who's in the White House, you can not turn back the the sequestration measures and say, "Oh, here's your 500 billion back". This is not great news for anyone, but I think managable for most contracting companies. Yes, people will be let go, but in the end, maybe this is what we need to re-direct and re-focus our attention on the future of this great nation, and stop relying on the Military Industrial Complex as our primary econmic driver.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:02 am | Reply
  20. George Patton

    Making defense cuts is exactly what this nation needs in order to get back on it's feet but unfortunately, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are trying to be politically correct and oppose them in order to win in November's election. As a consequence, this nation will continue to lavish in it's current depression!!!

    July 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  21. NN

    Since when is Defense spending welfare? It is a sorry testament to American industry that so much wealth has come to rely on Defense spending. Defense industry products are not useful for anything except destruction and the threat of destruction. These people have their nerve demanding that the vast vast majority of Americans shoulder enormous debt to keep the very very few in the money. Mr. Polacek is a knuckle-dragging parasite too dumb and lazy to find other markets for his sweat shop output. This is what a free-market economy is about, it's not about government selectively creating wealth for the few.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • IntelligentAmerican

      "Defense industry products are not useful for anything except destruction and the threat of destruction."

      Oh how naive and ignorant of history your little ultra-lib talking point is. Military funding and wars are the sort of adversity that has resulted in ENORMOUS progress for mankind. Jet engines, rockets, space travel, the Internet; heck, even something as essential as the highway system was originally proposed by Eisenhower as a means to efficiently move tanks around the country in the event of an invasion.

      How pig-headed your talking point is, I would get a different one.

      July 11, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  22. The Woof

    I would hate to see anyone lose their jobs but over 50 years ago the country & Congress in particular was warned about the MIC (Military Industrial Complex) and that warning came from a, GASP!, Republican! Cutting back on defense doesn't make a country weak. There are other jobs that can be generated if the money saved could be used to help rebuild our infrastructure there would be a lot of work. Roads need repaving, bridges inspected and repaired or built anew and this can be done with good planning & no partisan politics.

    July 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  23. roma_victor

    Eisenhower predicted the military-industrial complex. Companies that tie their future welfare to continuing wars and conflicts are not doing their employees any favors.

    July 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  24. Cimone Sadller

    All I can say is another civil war is coming...'

    July 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  25. mcskadittle

    cut government jobs and raise that unemployment rate, that is all the republicans in congress have accomplished

    July 10, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  26. USN-Ret

    Hidden neatly in the fight over the " National Defense" budget is probably the known fact that Job after Job will be lost ( Lockheed Martin in Texas dreading the Cut ) . It is also an inescapable fact that the money in the Military Budget is an example of what truly drives Job creation and Destruction. Demand and Money to purchase. Time the Middle Class had some of that money to drive up demand to make companies hire more workers. Okay Congress ... the " Ball is in your Court".

    July 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
    • some guy

      I agree that Military spending is a large contributor for manufacturing Jobs , but as an economy it is also a sign of economical collapse. Where the non military related industrial sector is no longer at the fore front as a sector of growth and jobs. 1) Greatest Threat to national security today is not terror, not China. But what is called as energy security, For Which the US depends on Oil from the middle east and therefore has to commit thousands of troops and equipment to secure a Supply route.

      US has major potential for growth in the Oil Sand Industry, which is slated to be the next best fuel, Solar energy and Wind energy all of which are non polluting and MUCH cheaper. and Yes EXXON MOBIL alone forecasts 55000 jobs for its first oil sands plant alone. There is no credible railway network connecting east cost to the west coast for commercial passenger network. which when electrified will work much better than the oversaturated Airlines. Once we get off the military industry being the economies life support, we will be on the way to recovery as right now we are being penny wise and pound foolish. and what can also be known as War profiteering.

      July 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  27. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    The GOP solution: Turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Unemployed, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Employed, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
    • Susie

      It is amazing that Democrats say that about Republicans and Republicans say that about Democrats. We are all American – lets work together as Americans! Stop the false accusations and give a solution.

      July 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply
      • Hahahahahahahahaha

        You are so lost suzie. Hahahahahahahahahha

        July 11, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  28. jennymay

    I don 't really see the difference between cutting waste in the military, thereby axing some jobs, and cutting waste in other public sector areas, thereby axing some jobs. Provided of course, that it doesn't devestate the country's ability to defend themselves. That being said, so much is already being spent, and its very difficult for an invading army to cross the ocean to wage war. Yes another country can send a missile, but they know that means America will wipe them off the face of the earth in retaliation. If the money is being spent to wage agressive wars especially, there are much more productive and socially beneficial programs the money could be spent on.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply

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