President visits shipyard ahead of Friday’s sequestration deadline

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Tracy Agnew/Suffolk News-Herald

President Barack Obama urged Congress to compromise to avoid sequestration cuts during a speech at Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News Shipbuilding on Tuesday afternoon.

The president warned hundreds of shipbuilders packed into a submarine manufacturing facility at the shipyard that the cuts could threaten their jobs.

“Over time, some of your jobs and businesses could be at risk,” Obama told the workers. “All told, the sequester could cost tens of thousands of jobs right here in Virginia.”

The automatic spending cuts — known as sequestration — are set to take effect Friday if Congress does not come to an agreement or delay them. The president warned last week that Virginia could lose about $28 million for education, $3 million for environmental funding, $1 million for public health, $1.2 million in funds that provide meals for seniors, and more.

Additional cuts could mean working parents lose access to child care, college students lose work-study jobs and law enforcement loses grants, Obama warned.

“There’s a sensible way to do things, and there’s a dumb way to do things,” Obama told the workers, likening the sequestration cuts to a family cutting college education, food for children or car payments rather than wasteful expenses.

“Instead of cutting out the government spending we don’t need, what the sequester does, it uses a meat-cleaver approach,” the president continued. “We can’t just cut our way to prosperity.”

Obama has proposed a plan he says will reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion. It includes new revenue from limiting tax deductions for the wealthy and closing other loopholes, as well as cuts through reducing agriculture subsidies, slashing payments to drug companies and to hospitals for patients who don’t pay, reforming the postal service and more.

But Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to budge on what amounts to raising taxes for the wealthy, the president said.

“All we’re asking is that we close loopholes for the well-off and well-connected,” Obama said, singling out professions like hedge fund managers and oil executives. “If the Republicans in Congress don’t like every detail of my plan, which I don’t expect them to … there’s no reason we can’t come together to find a sensible way.”

Obama recognized Virginia Congressmen Bobby Scott (D) and Scott Rigell (R), who were both in attendance. The president said both had been willing to compromise, but Rigell’s fellow Republicans were holding up the process.

Obama discouraged putting off a decision, saying Americans were tired of manufactured crises every month.

“We need to solve this thing now,” he said. “These cuts are wrong. They’re not smart. They’re not fair. They’re a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t have to happen.”

Some shipyard workers in the audience confirmed they are concerned about what will happen to their jobs.

“Today won’t ease my worries,” worker Brent Linton said before the speech. “My feeling right now is that it ain’t gonna be good. I don’t want to see nobody lose a job, lose a way to provide for their family.”

After Obama left the podium, another worker, Lamont Whitaker, said he enjoyed the speech.

“Congress has to get together and get on the ball,” he said.

Mike Petters, president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, said he was encouraged by Obama’s speech because the president referenced some of the things they had spoken about on a private tour.

“It tells me that he was very engaged in what we’re talking about,” Petters said.

He said it is too early to tell how the cuts could affect shipyard workers.