Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jason Chaffetz told Utah lawmakers Friday he doesn’t know how the state and its largest employer, Hill Air Force Base, will fare as Congress struggles to get the nation’s spending under control.
"It's not helpful, I know, but that's the reality," Chaffetz said in his report to the 2013 Legislature, delivered first to the state Senate and then to the state House, warning that Hill Air Force Base faces a “very real threat.”
The congressman labeled the “unparalleled, unsustainable debt that we continue to accumulate” one of the greatest threats to the country and said cuts must be made, especially in entitlement programs.
He said while defense spending must also be on the chopping block as Congress seeks an alternative to massive “sequestration” cuts set to take effect March 1, slicing too deeply into the military may jeopardize the country’s security as well as jobs in Utah.
There should be what he called “shared sacrifice for the good of the nation,” Chaffetz told the House, but if Utah’s military operations were judged solely on merit, they would be spared.
Hill Air Force Base, along with the Utah Test and Training Range, “provides something unique in the nation,” he said. “It really is a national treasure but there is political pressure to go in other directions. ... This is politics and I worry somebody is going to lean on the pedal one direction or another.”
Entitlements such as Social Security and assistance programs are a better target for budget cuts, Chaffetz said.
“The entitlements are swallowing us alive,” he said, calling for an overhaul to make sure there’s a safety net for “those who truly need it” but not to those who are “gaming the system.”
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said Utah lawmakers are “deeply concerned” about the nation’s financial situation as they ready the state spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1.
“We’re in a very precarious situation here,” Ivory said. “If the federal government commits fiscal suicide, we still have to go forward here.”
Chaffetz admitted bipartisan fault in budget delays in Washington, telling the Senate "the federal government is not making difficult choices" that it needs to make in order to avoid a growing deficit.
He advised lawmakers to refrain from accepting federal funds that require the state to "play by the federal rules." But, he said, even if Utah doesn't take federal funds for programs such as the proposed Medicaid expansion, all states still will be responsible to help pay it back.
Chaffetz, who said he is focusing on cyber security in his Congressional assignments, cautioned there is "real and immediate threat” to the nation’s computers. “This is serious,” he said. “I just cannot stress this enough.”
As a member of the federal Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Utah congressman also said, "We have not heard all of this situation," referring to incidents that took place during attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi.
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