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47
Proud to be a Card-Carrying, Flag-Waving, Patriotic American Liberal


In Defense of Defense Cuts
May 20, 1994

Yes, I am a different kind of candidate. And all the discussion surrounding the closing of military bases – including Loring – makes that very clear.

Loring Air Force Base in Limestone was one of 34 bases which had been designated by the federal Base Closure Commission as unnecessary for a strong national defense.

The 11 candidates for Congress in Maine's 2nd District have been asked repeatedly about how they would have voted on the bill, although the question is usually posed as if Loring were the only base on the list.

Almost unanimously, my Democratic opponents and the four Republicans have indicated they would have voted to keep all 34 bases open just to save Loring. Almost unanimously they – and the media – have mistakenly treated the question the same way – as if it had been a vote involving only Loring.

The arguments they have used have ranged from the strategic nature of Loring to the high cost of toxic waste clean-up to the economic devastation created in a local community when a base closes.

This kind of thinking explains a lot about why our federal budget is in the mess it's in.

The Base Closure Commission is an independent group set up to figure out which bases can be safely cut out of our cadre without reducing our national security. It was set up by Congress to be independent because Congress knew that few members would be willing to vote for a base closure in their home districts.

To do so would be considered political suicide. Just ask my opponents.

Overall, I support the Base Closure Commission process, and I would have approved that list of 34 bases to be closed – including Loring – because my perspective is not that of a career politician, but that of an ordinary taxpayer.

I cannot justify spending hard-earned tax dollars on military installations which the military (Base Closure Commission) has determined it does not need for our strong national defense. To do so is to deliberately waste that money and needlessly add to our national debt.

There have been arguments over the criteria used, but all-in-all the system seems to have worked as intended. Proponents of Loring had ample opportunity to make their case that Loring was an important part of the nation's defense.

The fact that the Democratic Senate majority leader, a seven-term Republican congresswoman, and a three-term Republican senator who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – all three combined – could not save a base in their home state is a pretty good indication that the decision was not a political one.

As to the quality-of-life debate, one person's Maine winter is another's Mississippi summer – I know, I've lived through both. I was a military wife during the Vietnam War and saw my then-husband off to two tours of duty in that country from a base in Mississippi. I have lived and worked in and around military bases in three states. I understand the need for a strong defense.

The second argument put forward – that we should keep bases open because it costs too much to clean up the toxic waste sites on them – makes me very angry. It is saying, boldly and upfront, that our military men and women (and their families) are guinea pigs and second-class citizens.

Those who earn their living in the military deserve the same clean environment as the rest of us. Our government should be held to the same environmental standards as its citizens. The toxic waste sites should be cleaned up NOW.

It's not a conversion expense, and I resent it being used like that in an attempt to keep bases open beyond their usefulness.

As for the economic impact of a closure – yes, defense contracts and military bases account for a large percentage of our state's gross domestic product. One set of statistics I have seen put that figure at about 10 percent.

The other side of that statistic, though, is that 90 percent of our gross domestic product does NOT come from the defense budget. And no other candidate in this race seems to be concerned about that 90 percent of the taxes that leave the pockets of Maine's taxpayers and doesn't reappear in the personal paychecks of some of those taxpayers. I just cannot understand how my opponents can justify keeping military people paid to do jobs that we no longer need done and cannot afford. That is fiscal irresponsibility of the highest order.

And every time one of them says we cannot close military bases because of the economic impact on the community, I cringe. Let's take a closer look at that argument.

For starters, whenever a community relies on one mill, one military base, or one agricultural crop for its economic survival, it is very vulnerable to forces beyond its control. Respect for diversity is one of the cornerstones of my campaign, and that includes economic diversity – a complex interweaving of business activity which can still thrive if one corner of it is cut off.

But different things happen when a paper mill closes than when a military base closes.

When a paper mill closes, or lays off 1,000 people, there are suddenly 1,000 local people who are out of work and looking for jobs.

When a military base with 5,000 military personnel (such as Loring AFB) closes, there are not 5,000 people looking for jobs. Those 5,000 military men and women, and their families, simply don't live there anymore – because they have been transferred somewhere else.

In a military base closing, it is the civilians in the community who worked on the base, or those businesses which catered to military people, who need to adjust. That figure is normally far less than the military payroll figure.

In Loring's case, the local civilian job loss has been estimated at about 1,000 people. And with the DFAS center and the Job Corps center scheduled for that site, town officials are proclaiming that the job balance is back on line. Admittedly, those jobs are government jobs, but at a substantially reduced level than the staffing at Loring. And the good news is, that jobs-replaced figure was reached with much of Loring still to be developed, and with some good, solid ideas for private businesses (such as a flax-processing mill and several aviation-related projects) still in the works.

I contend – and I seem to be alone in this – that our military budget is for our national defense. It is not a jobs program.

If we need jobs programs in this country – and I think we do – let's call it that, focus on it, and fund it separately. Hiding a jobs program in our inefficient military budget makes no sense. Paying people to do work that we know is no longer necessary is a classic example of the ''pork barrel'' problem that has gotten us into this budget mess to begin with.

* * *

Want to know my read on how the federal deficit came into being? For at least the last three decades, the members of Congress carefully measured and proclaimed the money they brought back to their home districts over and above the amount paid out by their constituents in taxes to the federal government. The bigger the difference, the more successful the member was considered at doing the job.

The assumption, of course, was that the extra money coming home, over and above what we sent out, was coming out of someone else's pocket in some other part of the country. We went along with it because we thought we were getting away with something. We truly believed in the free-lunch theory of economics. And the men and women who repeatedly got re-elected based on this shell game were not about to let us in on the secret.

What secret? The fact that every member of Congress was bringing home more than his constituents paid into the federal treasury. Our ''bonus'' was simply being put on the federal credit card called the federal deficit, and added to the national debt.

We were snookered, for decades, and now the bill is due and payable, with interest. It's time to put a stop to this craziness.

It's time to get real and back down to earth. It's time to squeeze every tax nickel – maybe not until it hurts, but certainly until we feel it.

''Cut the budget.''

I have heard that, over and over, in the nine months I have been on the campaign trail. And I agree, wholeheartedly.

But we also need to face up to a simple reality – the closing of Loring Air Force Base is what a budget cut looks like.

That does not mean we abandon communities suffering military cutbacks. These communities need military conversion money, job retraining to teach people to turn those swords into plowshares, economic stimulus packages where appropriate, and loans to small business – that part of our economy that has shown the greatest job growth in the last decade.

I am in favor of a healthy, diverse, productive economy. Tightening up on our military budget, along with other areas of federal spending, is one way to do it.

Let's try being less dependent on the federal government for our state's gross domestic product.

Doing things on our own – using our own labor and natural resources in a state abundant in both – is really the best, and at this point possibly the only, way to go.


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