During the 2012 presidential campaign one of the narratives that Republicans tried to push was that the government does not create jobs and that only the private sector can create jobs. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney constantly criticized President Barack Obama for his lack of private sector experience, and claimed that Obama and Congressional Democrats thought that only the government could create jobs and not private enterprise. Now as the specter of the so-called “fiscal cliff” looms and the Department of Defense faces budget cuts under the sequester, Republicans have suddenly come to the conclusion that government does create jobs.
Georgia is a state with a wide military footprint. Nine military bases contribute an estimated $20 billion to the state’s economy. Fort Benning, home to 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Ranger Battalion, and the 75th Ranger Regiment, supports more than 120,000 active duty military personnel, families, and support personnel and is the single largest employer in Columbus. In Augusta, Fort Gordon is home to more than 30,000 military personnel and their families, and the home of the United States Army Signal Corps is one of the largest employers in the area.
Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has initiated an effort to shield the military bases in his state from the possible effects of not just the sequester, but also base closures and the drawdown of the military after the ending of two wars. Deal, who claims the mantel a small government conservative Republican and who was elected despite using government for his own personal financial gain, has stood in the way of every kind of government spending. The governor cut benefits for unemployed, threatened to refuse to implement health care reform, and even diverted nearly $100 million in federal funds intended for foreclosure assistance to business subsidies.
Despite his aversion to spending taxpayer dollars, Deal created the Defense Initiative and hired Washington insider, Will Ball, to lobby Congress against base closures and any defense budget cuts that might affect the state. According to reporting by the Military Times, “details of exactly how the defense initiative will work, and who will serve with it, are still being hashed out.” But in addition to maintaining the military’s presence in Georgia, the governor is also looking to increase the number of defense contractors operating in the state.
Of course, this seems at odds with a political party that has railed against government spending, and claims that job creation can only happen in the private sector. Deal isn’t unique among his colleagues, as many Republicans have embraced the idea that government doesn’t create jobs – except when it does. In 2011 Arizona Sen. John Kyle said that “government spending doesn’t create jobs,” and then in 2012 said that preventing the sequester budget cuts was about trying “to get some economic growth, [and] job creation.”
Among the most strident defenders of the military-industrial complex and a proponent of the idea that government spending does not create jobs is Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon. During a hearing last year the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee seemingly contradicted himself in the same sentence saying that “We don’t spend money on defense to create jobs. But defense cuts are certainly a path to job loss, especially among our high-skilled workforces.” Republicans don’t spend money on defense to create jobs – except when they do.
Photo: Major Gen. Jim Butterworth, Georgia’s Adjutant General, with Gov. Nathan Deal and Chris Cumminskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development from Georgia National Guard.