Arizona Senator John McCain held a press conference and town hall meeting at Peoria City Hall, Aug. 23, discussing the future of the F-35, military cuts, and creating jobs for veterans to a crowd of standing room only.
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee conducted the meeting with West Valley mayors and Firefighter Country Partnership members prior to the town hall meeting.
The meeting’s purpose was to give residents an opportunity to hear from the senator concerning the deployment of F-35 jet fighters to Luke Air Force Base and the proposed automatic budget cuts to national defense. The senator also took questions from members of the audience.
McCain set the tone of urgency early at the meeting. He began his presentation standing in front of a large screen which displayed, “Arizona: 35,248 jobs at risk. $3 Billion Gross state product impact.”
“We are facing a very serious situation here,” McCain said. McCain pointed to a study released from George Mason University that reported approximately 36,000 Arizona defense jobs would be cut (1 million total throughout the nation) due to automatic defense cuts in the nation’s budget.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed the Sequestration Transparency Act, which is designed to cut an estimated $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts over a nine-year period, if no agreement on volunteered cuts by both Republican and Democratic parties is reached.
McCain said an estimated $500 billion would be removed from the defense budget during the nine-year span, with an estimated $55 billion already scheduled for next year. McCain said that the scheduled mandatory automatic budget cuts would need President Obama’s attention to keep from taking place.
The senator said if Congress doesn’t take action to restructure the federal budget before Jan. 2, the budget cuts affecting the nation’s defense budget will, indeed, take place.
These most recent cuts are being added on to previous cuts already scheduled to take place. McCain said a prior $460 billion for reductions in defense has already been scheduled. This includes reducing the U.S. Army by 100,000 personnel as well as cutting the Marine Corps by 80,000.
“It’s not as though we are not already making cuts,” McCain said. He said the cuts will not only hurt national security, but Arizona’s economy as well.
McCain drew connections between the repercussions national military cuts would have on the local and state economy. The Air Force’s decision to have Luke Air Force Base host F-35 pilot training, added to Boeing’s Apache helicopter facility, and Raytheon Missile Systems plant in Tucson, would all be in jeopardy.
“We are starting to see some signs that we are beginning to pull out of this recession,” McCain said. “You do this to the state of Arizona, my friends, and we will be right back into it. So, what do we need to do? We need to sit down together, Republican and Democrat, and we need to do what’s best for everyone and resolve this.” McCain also referenced quotes from members of the nation’s military expressing their concern over the impending cuts.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, “This mechanism would force defense cuts that would do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect this country.”
U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey said, “…we’d have to redo our strategy and we would not any longer be a global power.” McCain referenced recent global issues, which require the strength of our nation’s military.
“We’ve suffered a lot of losses of American blood in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we can’t allow Al Qaeda to come back; we can’t allow the Russians to support the Syrians, who are being massacred; we can’t allow China to continue to go unchecked.”
McCain then took questions from members of the audience. West Valley resident and attendee Paul Smiley, who is a combat veteran from Desert Storm, asked the senator what people can expect to see from Arizona’s delegation to help put veterans back to work.
“One of the great shames of this country is we have a 8.3 percent unemployment rate, and unemployment amongst veterans is 14 percent,” McCain said. “That is unacceptable in America.”
However, McCain said the country’s GI Bill is exceptionally generous with helping veterans afford school. McCain said it was important for the nation to continue to encourage veterans to go back to school. He also touted the advent of job fairs and their ability to assist veterans in finding jobs.
When one resident asked McCain what his stance was on the proposed Tohono O’odham reservation and casino, McCain answered he was in support of the state’s gaming compact.
“The compact was never envisioned to have tribes buy lands near major cities. It was meant to have gaming be reserved to Indian reservations.”