WASHINGTON - Rep. Jeff Miller doesn't want to see the Navy ground the Blue Angels.
But the Chumuckla Republican said the national debt has grown so large — now approaching $16.5 trillion — that he's reluctantly willing to go along with the Pentagon's proposal to scrub a number of scheduled air shows, including the annual July 4 demonstration in Pensacola, reports Florida Today.
The proposal is part of a larger deal to cut federal spending under the "sequestration" portion of an August 2011 agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
"I want to see the Blue Angels fly as much as anybody else, but this country is in a serious financial position," Miller said Wednesday. "And if the only way that we can get control of spending is through sequestration, I'm ready to go in that direction — even if it means the Blue Angels suspending some of their air shows."
The Blue Angels are based in Pensacola. Upcoming air shows in Jacksonville and Tampa would also be canceled under the plan.
Sequestration imposes automatic across-the-board spending cuts of more than $1 trillion over the next decade, including $500 billion at the Pentagon. The cuts originally were set to take effect Jan. 1, but Congress approved a two-month delay, making March 1 the new deadline.
This week, the Pentagon began sharing details of its plan to cut $46 billion from its budget for fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30.
The plan calls for $4 billion in cuts to the Navy, including furloughs of "most" Naval civilian workers for 22 days. That presumably would affect workers at Pensacola Naval Air Station and other naval bases in Florida.
The cuts would save $20 million by canceling Blue Angels air shows scheduled from April through September. That would mean no July performance over Pensacola Beach this year.
"In order to do what this country needs to do, we can no longer afford to do the things we like to do," said Miller, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. "Unfortunately, the Blue Angels may be one of those things."
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama urged Congress to avoid the sequestration cuts by passing a new debt-reduction package that would increase some taxes.
"While it's critical for us to cut wasteful spending, we can't just cut our way to prosperity," Obama told reporters. "Deep, indiscriminate cuts to things like education and training, energy and national security will cost us jobs, and it will slow down our recovery. It's not the right thing to do for the economy. It's not the right thing for folks who are out there still looking for work."
Miller and other Republicans have repeatedly said they won't support new taxes because spending is the problem.
The threat of automatic cuts to defense and other programs was designed to be so distasteful that lawmakers would have to compromise on reducing deficits in a less drastic way. Economists say allowing the sequestration cuts to take effect could reverse the country's fragile economic recovery.
The Republican-run House passed bills that included steep budget cuts but would have allowed the Pentagon more leeway in deciding how to implement them. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, never took up the bills, so sequestration remains on track.
Miller and other GOP lawmakers now sound almost ready to accept the drastic cuts under sequestration as the only alternative to spiraling debt.
"It was not the way that I would prefer that we gain control of spending in Washington," Miller said. "But it may be the only way that we can get members here on the Hill to understand how serious the problem is."
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