Saturday, January 19, 2013

GOP Obstructionism is an Economic Time Bomb For Hampton Roads

As the Congressional Republicans, especially those in the House of Representatives, continue to play games with the nation's economic future and refuse any meaningful budget compromises, many in Hampton Roads who work in the defense industry or who work as civilian employees for the region's many military bases face an uncertain future.  If sequestration cuts kick in, defense contracts may dry up and up to 39,000 civilian employees could face furloughs.  All be cause the Congressional Republicans place kissing the asses of extremists and lunatics in the party base ahead of the nation's well being.  It is a sad state of affairs when the biggest threat to the nation is now from the equivalent of domestic terrorists who wear the the GOP mantle.  A piece in the Virginian Pilot looks at possible local impacts thanks to folks like Scott Rigell, Randy Forbes and Rob Wittman.  Here are excerpts:

Tom Epley's schedule for maintaining and repairing Navy ships on Norfolk's waterfront was supposed to be steady through all of 2013.  But as of this week, he doesn't have any Navy work beyond April.  The budget stalemate in Washington is forcing the Navy to delay approving new work for businesses like Epley's company, MHI Ship Repair & Services, which employs 450 people and uses 750 subcontracted workers.

If the budget issues are left unresolved, spending cuts will reverberate throughout the local economy, which gets almost half its income from defense-related work.

With little time left to prepare, the Department of Defense is imposing a civilian hiring freeze, getting rid of temporary workers and holding off on contracts for future ship maintenance - like the work done by Epley's firm. It's also delaying ship decommissionings, cutting back base remodeling and maintenance, and canceling demolition projects.

Pay and benefits for military personnel wouldn't be affected, but the military's civilian workforce - including many of the Defense Department's 39,000 civilian employees in Hampton Roads - could be ordered to stay home for up to a month. The furloughs wouldn't apply to jobs critical to national security that can't be done by military personnel.

The automatic cuts, known as sequestration, were set in motion by legislators in 2011 as a doomsday threat to provoke them to find a more acceptable way to reduce deficit spending. The government borrows about $1 trillion every year. If no deal is struck, the cuts are to begin on March 1.

Separately, lawmakers have been unable to agree on a budget for federal fiscal year 2013, which runs from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30. Instead, they approved a continuing resolution that pays for government operations until March 27 - but at the same level as 2012. The military had been anticipating billions of dollars more in 2013 to cover planned projects and operations.

If Congress doesn't approve a new budget - or another continuing resolution - by March 27, the government will run out of money and be forced to shut down all but essential operations. If lawmakers approve a short-term resolution that keeps funding the government at last year's level, cuts will be necessary, defense officials say.

As the article notes, not all are complete doomsayers:

But while Navy leaders are sounding alarms, some observers say that after a decade of continuous rise in defense spending, the cuts are long overdue.  Putting the war budget aside and accounting for inflation, defense spending is at its highest rate since World War II said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He said Pentagon officials have gotten used to an open spigot.

The automatic, across-the-board cuts, he said, would be disastrous for the armed forces. But intelligent budget cuts make sense, said Korb, who served as director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and was an assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, managing much of the Pentagon's budget.  "They don't have a money problem, they have a management problem," Korb said. "And any of these claims about a hollow force and all that are completely exaggerated across the board."

Obviously, one quick interim fix is to have America get the hell out of Afghanistan NOW.  But nonetheless, regardless of what happens in Congress, Hampton Roads will likely feel financial pain because for far too long it has relied on military spending to support the economy.  And the blame extends across the leadership of almost all of the region's cities which have failed to adopt more progressive policies and make demands that the GOP controlled General Assembly cease pushing a religious extremist social agenda that makes Virginia as a whole toxic to progressive and innovative businesses that don't want to move to a state where social policies and employment non-discrimination laws are set by the Christian Taliban. Aggravating the situation locally is the fact that Hampton Roads has a brain drain of young college educated individuals who leave the area for more progressive parts of the country.  Meanwhile, the Virginia GOP and its puppet masters at The Family Foundation seem hell bent on making matters even worse.

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