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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Cruz’s Misleading Ad on Military Cuts

A Ted Cruz TV ad running in South Carolina blames President Obama for “threatening 3,000 jobs at Fort Jackson.” Actually, only 180 jobs were cut. The potential for deeper cuts was avoided by a budget bill signed last year by Obama — and opposed by Cruz.

The ad’s claim is based on a worst-case projection from a 2014 U.S. Army report which is now long out of date, and never came to pass. “That [3,000 figure] ended up being the 180,” Fort Jackson spokesman Patrick Jones told us.

Cruz, who is one of the Republican party’s leading presidential candidates, is looking in this new ad beyond the Iowa caucus (Feb. 1) and New Hampshire primary (Feb. 9) to South Carolina’s Feb. 20 primary.

The ad starts with images of gun-wielding terrorists and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, as the narrator warns about the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.” It then quickly switches to the important role that Fort Jackson plays in the U.S. military. Fort Jackson is the Army’s main basic training center and, as the ad accurately says, trains more than half of Army soldiers.

“But President Obama is decimating our military, threatening 3,000 jobs at Fort Jackson. That’s wrong,” the ad says, “Ted Cruz will protect Fort Jackson jobs as president to help keep America safe.”

When we asked the Cruz campaign about the 3,000 figure, it referred us to an August 2014 story about the Fort Jackson community rallying to prevent the threat of deep cuts to the base.

WISTV, Aug. 1, 2014: The US Army is in the process of discussing possible cuts and closures, which could have a big impact at Fort Jackson. In a worst case scenario, Commander Major General Bradley Becker, says more than 3,000 jobs could be lost.

But the threat of such deep cuts failed to materialize, because of decisions made by the Army in July and the president and Congress a few months later.

Let’s start at the beginning when the base first learned about the potential for deep cuts in the spring of 2014.

We spoke to Patrick Jones, a civilian public affairs officer at Fort Jackson, who told us the 3,000 number — actually 3,100 — came from the Army’s Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Assessment (SPEA) issued in June 2014. That report was based on the assumption that automatic cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 would take effect in fiscal year 2016.

Those automatic cuts, as we have written before, were the result of a special bipartisan congressional committee’s failure to agree on how to reduce spending by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The committee’s inability to agree on specific cuts triggered a provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that required automatic, across-the-board spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years through a process known as sequestration.

Congress had provided the military with some relief in a 2013 budget bill, but the 2014 Army report warned that “the annual sequestration cuts are set to resume in FY 2016, unless Congress passes legislation to stop sequestration from going into effect.”

That report looked at the potential impact of sequester cuts on the Army and individual bases. It said “if sequestration-level cuts are imposed in FY 2016 and beyond, Active Component end-strength would be reduced to 420,000.” The report listed the “total maximum potential reduction numbers” for individual bases, including the potential loss of 2,363 military and 708 civilian positions at Fort Jackson.

The Army is already undergoing a reduction in staff, but the sequester cuts would have forced even deeper cuts. The Fort Jackson Leader — which describes itself as an “authorized publication for members of the U.S. Army” — explained the situation facing the Army and Fort Jackson in an August 2014 story:

Fort Jackson Leader, Aug. 14, 2014: The Army is currently on track to reduce the strength of its active duty force from 562,000 to 490,000, but sequestration-level budget cuts could necessitate a reduction to 420,000 active troops by 2019.

Those cuts could force the elimination of 2,400 military and 700 civilian positions on Fort Jackson, according to the Army’s most recent Programmatic Environmental Assessment, or PEA, which was conducted for more than 30 military installations. Fort Jackson was not part of the Army’s original PEA in 2013, but was added this year in the Army’s supplemental PEA, or SPEA, in light of the possibility of automatic spending cuts, commonly known as sequestration, in 2016.

But two government actions prevented such deep cuts at Fort Jackson.

The first was an Army decision announced in July to cut “only 180” military positions at the South Carolina base, as the Fort Jackson Leader reported. The post commander described the impact of the cuts as “negligible” and credited the Army for recognizing the base’s “critical mission.”

Fort Jackson Leader, July 16, 2015: “The impact on the Fort Jackson/Columbia community will be negligible,” post commander Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier said Friday after receiving an official count of the number of cuts at Fort Jackson.

“The Army looked at the critical mission that happens here at Fort Jackson, Cloutier said, and found that it “can’t happen anywhere else.”

That article did say that an “as-yet-undetermined number of civilian workers” also will lose their jobs at the base. Jones, the base spokesman, told us the base still has “no idea” how many civilians who may lose their jobs. However, that number is likely to be relatively few, too. The 2014 Army report based cuts at Fort Jackson and elsewhere on a formula that resulted in deeper military cuts than civilian cuts.  

The threat of even deeper cuts at Fort Jackson was removed for the remainder of the Obama administration when the president and Congress agreed to reverse the sequester cuts in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, a two-year deal that increased defense spending for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

As the Washington Post reported when the bill passed Oct. 30, 2015, “The deal will lift the so-called sequester spending caps and increase discretionary spending by about $80 billion over two years, an amount that will be split equally between defense and domestic programs.”

Cruz voted against the bill, which passed 64-35, and criticized the “Washington Cartel” and his party’s leadership for agreeing to increase spending without paying for it.

In a floor speech a day before the vote, Cruz said the deal “represents the Cartel in all of its glory because this is the combined work product of John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid,” referring to the House speaker, House minority leader, Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader, respectively. He said the “the Republican majorities have just given President Obama — a diamond encrusted, glow-in-the-dark AmEx card … and they do not even send him the bill. They send the bill to your kids and my kids.”

We take no position on the budget bill and how it was funded — or not funded. But the 3,000 jobs his ad mentions, and promises to “protect,” are no longer in jeopardy, at least for the near future. What happens in fiscal year 2018, after the two-year budget deal expires, remains uncertain, as Defense Department Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer Mike McCord has said. That will be left to the next president and a future Congress.