Midway through Wednesday's Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on cyber security, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) turned the conversation to the budget cuts that threaten the intelligence community.
"My staff inform me that last week we received a notice, our committee received a notice, that about half of NSA personnel in the cyber threat center could be furloughed as a result of sequestration," he said, speaking to the committee's witness, NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander. "Now that's a fine 'how do you do, welcome aboard.""
Not surprisingly, Alexander agreed, saying sequestration would have a "significant impact on our people," forcing NSA staff to endure 11 furlough days.
Concerns about how sequestration would affect national security readiness have been aired since the across-the-board cuts were conceived, often by the same lawmakers who supported the law that instituted them, the Budget Control Act of 2011.
But in worrying Thursday about sequestration's impact on the NSA, Cochran continued a peculiar trend of Mississippi Republicans expressing concern over the fallout of the cuts.
At a little-noticed rally two weeks ago, the state's governor, Phil Bryant, its other U.S. Senator, Roger Wicker, and two representatives, Gregg Harper and Alan Nunnelee, protested the cuts to the Defense Department's acquisition programs. Of particular concern was the downsizing of the UH-72A Lakota helicopter program, produced in the local Columbia, Miss., plant. EADS North America, which makes the Lakota helicopter, has said it is contemplating slashing 300 jobs in Columbia alone.
Like Cochran, Wicker, Harper and Nunnelee all voted for the Budget Control Act in 2011. Like the rest of the United States Congress, they tend to be more interested in the effects of sequestration when those effects involve their own districts or states. And like a good chunk of the Republican Party, the lawmakers' broad concerns with the budget cuts involve the impact they will have on defense capacities, as opposed to social welfare programs. Wicker has backed legislation to replace sequestration's defense cuts.
They also want to give the administration more budgetary flexibility to soften the blow -- something the White House has opposed because it would subject the administration to additional blame -- and steadfastly oppose raising taxes as an alternative to closing the deficit.
Ryan Taylor, a spokesman for Wicker offered the following statement:
Senator Wicker has been supportive of Republican budget alternatives that rein in discretionary and long-term entitlement spending. He believes all spending should be on the table and fully reviewed, including DOD spending. However, the across-the-board cuts imposed under sequestration do not permit the Pentagon to exercise sufficient discretion in determining where the cuts will be made. That is why Senator Wicker has been supportive of House Republican efforts to provide the Administration with much-needed flexibility to determine where the cuts should fall.
Jordan Russell, communications director for Rep. Nunnelee offered one of his own:
Mr. Nunnelee has said all along sequestration is not the ideal way to cut spending, which is why he twice voted to replace it with smarter cuts. His two main concerns with sequestration are its failure to address mandatory spending growth and its disproportionate impact on national defense. However, he does not believe we should replace spending cuts with tax increases, as the administration has thus far insisted be a condition of any sequester replacement.