MOUNT PLEASANT — Two Republican South Carolina congressmen warned Thursday that the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, scheduled to be deployed to South Carolina bases, is threatened by $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts set after the first of the year, called sequestration.
“There is one thing that stands in the way of the F35 and that one thing is military sequestration,” said 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Scott speaking on the hanger deck of aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown. “That stands to be a greater obstacle to the F35 than any fifth generation (fighter) plane competition from China or Russia.”
The stealth fighter is set to be deployed at both the Shaw Air force Base in Sumter and at the Beaufort Marine Air Station.
“I'm very concerned,” agreed 2nd District U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “To me it all depends on the election. I believe Gov. (Mitt) Romney will be elected and then I believe we will have an orderly process to figure out what to do about sequestration.”
In addition to the military cuts, a U.S. Senate committee has calculated sequestration will cost South Carolina about $65 million in money for health screenings, education, senior nutrition, veteran's services and employment. The cuts are scheduled in domestic and military spending because a bi-partisan congressional panel could not agree earlier on trimming the federal budget.
The congressmen visited the Yorktown where Lockheed Martin, the company that makes the F-35, set up a simulator to show off the fighter's abilities. Both lawmakers took a spin in the simulator.
Steve Callaghan, the director for Lockheed Martin's F35 operation in Washington, said the company is delivering about 40 of the new planes a year currently. The company is expected to reach full production of about 200 planes a year by 2019.
Scott said it's time for the U.S. Senate to move to replace sequestration or end it. The House, he said, has voted three times to do so.
The Obama administration issued a memo last month saying the government would cover the costs of any contractors that might face legal trouble if they have to lay off workers due to the across-the-board spending cuts that kick in Jan. 2.
“That says to me he may have a solution in his pocket entering the lame duck session,” Scott said. “It's important for us to have clarity and act responsibly in advance of sequestration. We should act now. Yesterday was not soon enough.”