By Mark Walker
Pentagon spending cuts were blasted Wednesday evening as certain to weaken America's military readiness and cripple the country's ability to overwhelm foes.
Several speakers at a defense town hall meeting organized by Rep. Duncan Hunter at the University of San Diego said cuts that could reach nearly $1 trillion over the next decade would devastate the national and local defense industry and harm service members and their families.
"We have the Navy and Marine Corps here in San Diego," said Hunter, a two-term lawmaker who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. "If you harm national security, you are going to harm the economy in San Diego."
Hunter was joined by Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, who told the audience of about 100 people that if all the cuts go through the armed services could lose up to 200,000 troops.
"If these cuts go through, we are going to be dangerously close to where we cannot guarantee our national security," Forbes said. "An economic tidal wave will hit San Diego and the rest of the country and we could lose as many as 1 million jobs nationwide."
Hunter stressed that his job now is to help bring attention to the looming cuts.
Pointed to the many empty seats in the auditorium where the meeting was conducted, he said, "That tells me that people don't understand the gravity of the situation."
A civilian defense worker, Kevin Rooney, urged that Congress find a way to avoid the cuts.
The Pentagon is trimming close to $500 billion over the next decade and could face another $500 billion in automatic cuts between 2013 and 2021.
The second wave of potential budget reduction stems from the failure of a bipartisan congressional committee to reach a deal late last year on reducing federal spending.
The San Diego Military Advisory Council estimates that overall defense spending in San Diego County for its array of Pentagon contractors, more than 100,000 sailors and Marines and their bases accounts for more than $30 billion in annual spending and 354,000 jobs.
In Washington on Wednesday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, warned lawmakers the Pentagon is looking at having to slash the number of troops and cancel major weapons systems, and faces a disruption in operations worldwide.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also lobbied Congress to avert any cuts beyond the $450 billion already in place.
Unless a deal is reached to avoid the additional $500 billion cuts, the defense chief said layoffs of civilian workers and reductions in military contractors are certain.
"It would be a disaster," Panetta said.
Hunter urged that people concerned about the cuts go to the website www.defendingourdefenders.com and leave their comments.