Saturday, May 18, 2013
BATH — Automatic federal budget cuts that are scheduled to take effect March 1 would disproportionately affect defense spending, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said Thursday after touring Bath Iron Works, a major Maine employer that relies on defense contracts.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins greets Bath Iron Works supervisor Chris Comora Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, as she and Sen. Angus King toured the shipbuilding plant.
Photo courtesy of BIW/Dennis Griggs
Bath Iron Works president Jeff Geiger talks with U.S. Sen. Angus King Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, as King and Sen. Susan Collins toured the shipbuilding plant.
Photo courtesy of BIW/Dennis Griggs
The tour was closed to the media, but Collins and King spoke afterward about the looming cuts, which could hamper future BIW contracts.
"We are still not building the number of ships that the Navy says that it needs to meet its military requirement," said Collins, who serves on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for armed services. "The worst thing we could do for our national security is to drop that number still further."
King said, "The most significant threat to the national security of the United States today is the budgetary chaos in Washington. And I think that's shameful. It's something that's entirely within our control."
If Congress fails to act by March 1, widespread cuts will go into effect. Congressional Republicans and the White House remain at an impasse over whether any solution should include new revenues -- likely through increasing taxes on the wealthy and closing corporate tax loopholes -- or solely through budget cuts, as many Republicans insist.
With no compromise in sight, members of Congress appear to be trying to protect projects that are important to their own constituencies.
On Wednesday, King and Collins sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to convene a meeting with congressional leaders to come up with a way to avoid the budget cuts, enact a new defense budget and address the federal deficit. The letter focused almost exclusively on defense-related jobs and mentioned the potential effects on BIW and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.
"These jobs are not just a count of government billets, a macroeconomic statistic, or an unemployment rate fluctuation," Maine's senators wrote in the letter to Obama. "These jobs provide financial security for our constituents and health insurance for their families."
In the House, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine has been urging her colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to pass a stopgap measure that would continue funding government at the same level but give the Defense Department authority to spend additional money.
That would presumably allow the Navy to move forward with awarding the next round of contracts for new destroyers, potentially to be built at BIW.
Pingree, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud wrote to congressional leaders this week, urging them to take action.
BIW President Jeffrey Geiger said Thursday that any cuts to defense spending absolutely would affect the shipyard. He said the uncertainty is hard on the more than 5,000 employees.
"We're a little more insulated in the near term because we have projects that already have been funded," he said, referring to the five Navy ships that are under contract. But BIW, a division of General Dynamics, also needs future contracts.
King said an aircraft carrier based in Newport News, Va., that is supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf is idle because of the threat of spending cuts.
"They don't have the money to pay for fuel," he said.
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