Thursday, June 20, 2013
WASHINGTON — The sequester has been in effect for just over a week now, and the economy hasn't crumbled.
A week's time has not provided much clarity or certainty, however.
For instance, the organizers of the annual Great State of Maine Air Show in Brunswick were counting on the Navy's elite Blue Angels flying team to help draw tens of thousands of spectators to the September event again this year. Now their participation is, well, up in the air.
The Navy already has canceled four Blue Angels shows in April because of the more than $40 billion in budget cuts required of the Defense Department through Sept. 30.
"Unless things change ... it would not be unreasonable to conclude that we could cancel shows for the rest of the season as well," Navy spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Stephens said last week.
It's not just the Blue Angels that could be affected. The military may not be able to send all of the other aircraft that perform "tactical demonstrations" and are on display for the crowd. The same goes for Navy ships that make public appearances at tourist events along the Maine coast, such as the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.
"Obviously, if they do cancel, we are going to have to sit down and evaluate whether we do a show," Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority that runs the Great State of Maine Air Show, said of the Navy's stunt-pilot squad. "We just don't know until we hear back from the Blue Angels."
Good news for BIW?
There were a few signs of movement on Capitol Hill last week that could address some budget-related concerns back in Maine, though.
The House of Representatives passed a stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown on March 27 that keeps pretty much all of the cuts in place. However, the bill provides the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs with new spending authority through Sept. 30.
That means the Pentagon could proceed with plans to award contracts for additional destroyers likely to be built — at least in part — at Bath Iron Works. Delays or the loss of those contracts is a major concern at BIW, which is Maine's largest private employer, with roughly 5,000 workers.
The Senate is working on its own budget, which would authorize additional defense funding while also giving agencies more flexibility when making sequester cuts. Expect Senate action on that bill this week and next but probably not before some partisan bickering abpout what is or isn't in the budget bill.
Maine on the menu
Three of Maine's better-known foodstuffs — lobster, potatoes and wild blueberries — will be on the menu when President Barack Obama meets with Senate Republicans on Thursday.
Obama plans to stop by the Republican and Democratic caucus meetings in the House and Senate this week to talk about "the priorities on his legislative agenda." Senators rotate who hosts the weekly caucus luncheon, and this week is Maine Sen. Susan Collins' turn.
Collins' office said the menu will be Maine lobster salad, potato chips supplied by Fox Family Potato Chips in Aroostook County (Collins' home county) and wild Maine blueberry pie.
While it's not guaranteed the president will partake of the lunch, it's hard to imagine him not sampling the spread.
Obama seems to have a taste for lobster. He enjoyed a traditional Maine lobster dinner while vacationing in Bar Harbor in July 2010 and frequently dines on the crustacean when vacationing with his family on Martha's Vineyard. Lobster was also on the menu at his inaugural luncheon with members of Congress and other VIPs back in January.
And, of course, there's always room for pie.
Overheard on the Hill
"I don't want to get her in trouble, but I know she really likes me because I like her a lot. Sen. Collins ... seriously, it was Republicans coming and standing up and saying this has to be done in the Senate. So we owe you. We owe you big."
— Vice President Joe Biden speaking to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during Thursday's signing of the Violence Against Women Act.
Government work factoid
Roughly 4.8 percent of the Portland area's workers earn their paycheck from the federal government or the military, ranking the city 22nd in the nation. Boston, by comparison, ranks 56th, with just 2.1 percent of its workforce employed by the federal government. (Source: March 7, 2013, graphic in The Washington Post)
That means that nearly 5 percent of Portland's workforce could be required to take unpaid days off during the next six months because of budget cuts, resulting in a 20 percent loss in pay for some.
Kevin Miller — 317-6256