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Wittman tells local group he wants sequestration dispute solved
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
Rep. Rob Wittman says he hopes a continuing resolution on the federal budget can be used to stave off dire spending cuts, especially to defense spending.
Wittman, the Republican who represents the 1st District, was speaking to the GovCon League, a group of government contractors, in Fredericksburg on Monday. He was there to explain “sequestration,” currently the term for a $1.2 trillion batch of federal spending cuts that will start taking effect in January if Congress doesn’t act to rescind them.
The sequestration cuts were put in place —with bipartisan support, including Wittman’s vote—last summer, as a temporary solution to the debt ceiling fight and to stave off a U.S. debt default. The idea at the time was to create a draconian level of cuts that would pressure a “supercommittee” to craft a less painful package of budget cuts in its place.
But that never happened, and so the sequestration cuts will start in early January if Congress doesn’t act. About half of the cuts are due to happen to defense, which would have serious repercussions on the economy in Virginia, where many government contractors are based. Studies show that Virginia could lose more than 130,000 jobs from defense cuts alone, and billions of dollars in economic impact.
Congress is in recess and not due back in Washington until mid-September. But Wittman said that when lawmakers return, they’ll consider a continuing resolution to extend the federal budget six more months. It won’t be directly related to the sequestration cuts, but Wittman hopes sequestration can be included, perhaps through language extending defense spending at current levels until the next Congress can reverse the sequestration cuts.
Doing that would essentially buy Congress more time and punt the sequestration issue past this fall’s campaign season and the lame duck session after the election.
“Lame duck sessions haven’t been noted for significant accomplishments,” Wittman said.
Wittman said politics this year will complicate efforts to reach compromise on revoking the sequestration cuts; even though members of both parties want to stop the cuts, no one has agreed on how to do so. When Congress returns to work, all House members and a number of senators will be running re-election campaigns, and they’ll also be working under the shadow of the presidential race. But Wittman also hopes there will be incentives for Congress to act soon instead of postponing the issue.
Just before Congress returns, he said, President Barack Obama’s administration is due to report on how it would carry out the sequestration cuts if they take effect. Wittman hopes that provides a jolt to lawmakers, especially to the Senate; Wittman said the House has passed its own bill to reverse the cuts, but that the Senate has not yet passed one.
Wittman also noted that under federal law, many government contractors may have to start notifying workers of a possible reduction in force 60 days before such a reduction. With the sequestration cuts due to kick in Jan. 2, that means thousands of pink slips could go out the first week of November—days before the election.
The GovCon League’s forum was aimed at veterans, and Wittman was asked how the sequestration cuts would impact military veterans. They shouldn’t, he said, at least not directly; the cuts exempt payroll, individual accounts and Veterans Administration programs, he said.
But many military veterans now are defense contractors, and others at the forum—particularly people who work in employment training—urged audience members to prepare for the worst and make sure they’re as marketable in the workforce as possible.
One audience member questioned why Congress took a recess at all, without its job on sequestration done.
“There’s a bit of frustration,” said Ken Stroud of Professional Solutions Delivered in King George.
Stroud said that when he was in the Marines, if a problem was big enough they didn’t go home until it was fixed. Wittman said he didn’t want Congress to take its August break, and lobbied fellow members to vote against adjourning.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028