Connolly Calls on Congress to Cancel August Recess and Focus on Sequestration
Washington, DC, July 31, 2012
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., says Congress should cancel its annual August recess to focus on the automatic, across-the-board cuts that would affect defense and other federal contractors. Read more.
Local leaders are crossing party lines in an effort to get Congress to escape a trap it set for itself -- automatic spending cuts that could mean the loss of more than 2 million jobs nationally.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., says Congress should cancel its annual August recess to focus on the automatic, across-the-board cuts that would affect defense and other federal contractors.
The cuts -- set to occur because a bipartisan panel failed to come up with a plan to cut the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- would be effective Jan. 2, 2013.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who often calls for budget cuts, is among those asking Congress to take action now to prevent the cuts.
"As many as 122,500 Virginians could be affected negatively and lose their jobs," McDonnell says.
The Defense Department faces cuts that would trim $500 billion in projected national security spending over the next decade. Plus, the Pentagon is working to slice another $487 billion that's part of last year's Budget Control Act.
"In as little as 2 1/2 months, virtually every defense contractor in America is going to have to make a decision about sending out notices under the Warren Act and tell you whether or not you've got a job," McDonnell says.
Connolly says the impact could be the greatest in Northern Virginia.
"The job loss potential, if this in fact goes into effect, is almost as great on the civilian side as it is on the defense side," says Connolly.
With just 10 days before Congress takes its recess, Connolly says both sides of the aisle need to take action before the November elections.
An analysis done by George Mason University for the Aerospace Industries Association finds more than 2.14 million jobs nationally could be lost if the automatic cuts occur, a process known on Capitol Hill as "sequestration."
Behind California, Virginia stands to lose the most jobs if the cuts take effect. When defense and non-defense cuts are taken into account, the analysis says Virginia would lose 207,571 jobs. Texas, D.C. and Maryland round out the top five for total job losses, with D.C. losing 127,407 defense and non-defense jobs and Maryland losing 114,795 jobs.
McDonnell wants a compromise. He said the nation has to get its fiscal house in order.
"It's got to be in a way that is systematic, that is practical, that looks out for the American war fighter and the men and women of the private sector that support them. That's not the way this was done," said McDonnell, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Labor Department, in a letter to federal contractors, said federal contractors do not have to warn workers about potential layoffs, saying such a move would be speculative.
But major contractors are concerned about the long-term impacts of the cuts.
In an interview with The Washington Business Journal, John Jumper, chief executive officer of McLean-based SAIC Inc., said sequestration would damage the region's ability to attract and keep workers.
"As these contracts get delayed - contracts that led us to bring on a workforce in anticipation of the awards - jobs are in jeopardy. And we do have to let them go out of necessity," Jumper said. "It makes the workforce very uneasy. Then what that leads to, is [other employees] that say, 'I have an opportunity to go over here, and I'm going to take it before my turn comes.' When that talent vanishes, it's hard to build it back up."
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly on Monday called on Congress to cancel its upcoming five-week recess in order to solve looming $500 billion defense cuts that could cost the DC region thousands of jobs.
That sentiment was echoed by Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce President Jim Corcoran, who said the federal government shouldn't balance its budget on the backs of the defense industry. And Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, who arrived late to the "Stop Sequestration" rally thanks to a flight delay, said afterward he supported Connolly's idea.
"Sequestration" is the name given to $1 trillion federal budget cuts that will happen in January if Congress doesn't reach a compromise. Half of that would affect the defense industry, the other half could affect everything from air traffic controllers to Head Start. Some estimates say in all the cuts could cost DC more than 127,000 jobs (?15,000 DOD jobs and 112,000 non-DOD jobs).
About 250 people, many employed by defense contractors with major presences in Northern Virginia, attended the Stop Sequestration rally at the Crystal Gateway Marriott on Monday afternoon. The list of speakers included Republican and Democratic elected officials and chief executives of some of the area's largest contractors — including Falls Church-based Northrop Grumman, which employs about 8,000 people in Northern Virginia.
They used words like "devastating," "extremely destructive" and "insanity" to describe the looming cuts, which were put in place by the so-called Super Committee once upon a time to force a congressional budget compromise. That hasn't happened.
"It was never meant to be a policy. It was a Sword of Damocles to hang over everyone's head. It was never expected to happen," Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell said.
"We need to stop it now. Not after the election. Not hoping something happens during a lame-duck session. Men and women in both parties need to come together. We need to create certainty and security."
Most of the applause lines were blatantly bipartisan.
Several speakers took the time to point out the other half of sequestration, another $500 billion in cuts.
John Jumper, a former Air Force chief of staff and current chief executive of McLean-based Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC, said affected contractors hire a substantial number of veterans each year. Many of the companies that would be hurt by the cuts research everything from a cure for cancer to new technology to locate improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
Further, small- to mid-sized companies generate much of the "entrepreneurial innovation" that larger firms later recruit or advance, said Brad Antle, CEO of Fairfax-based Salient Federal Solutions and chairman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, which represents about 1,000 companies.
Proposed defense cuts would hit these companies harder and devastate the "innovation pipeline," he said.
Several speakers pointed out that all of these businesses enrich the local economy because their employees spend money in local shops and restaurants.
"Small businesses are key players in the economy of this region," said Corcoran, with the Fairfax chamber.
"What's driving them crazy is they don't know if they can hire another person. They haven't lost faith in innovation. They haven't lost faith in their ability to grow. They've lost faith in the federal government as their biggest partner."
Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf said he believed enacting entitlement reform, particularly as recommended in the 2010 Simpson-Bowles plan, would work for a long-term solution. Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, who represents the Hampton Roads area, said not extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would produce the $1 trillion needed to make sequestration go away. Scott said one estimate indicated half of the Hampton Roads economy was tied to the defense industry.
Moran told the crowd that he expected the defense cuts would not happen. He said the problem was Democrats who refused to budge on entitlement reforms and Republicans who refused to allow the government to raise new revenue. He praised Wolf, McDonnell and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham for their bipartisan efforts.
"People should expect more from their Congress, that the art of politics should always be the art of compromise," Moran said.
But, he said, people who care about this issue need to stay involved long after it's settled. The country needs a healthier, more educated electorate if it's going to prosper, he said.
"You're all smarter than the average American. Trust me. In too many parts of the country, people are being dumbed down and fattened up," Moran said.
"Let's do this together. That's why we're here. But most importantly, that's who you are."
"This is too important for the country, and I think some or all of that five-week recess should be cancelled," Connolly told WMAL. "We ought to stay in session and solve this problem. It's not rocket science," he added.
Connolly spoke at an anti-sequestration rally in Crystal City, where some 250 people - mostly defense industry employees and contractors - were gathered. Republican Congressman Frank Wolf and Governor Bob McDonnell, as well as Democratic Congressman Jim Moran joined Connolly at the bipartisan event.
Connolly says that the risk of the cuts taking effect is not a gamble that Virginians can take.
“There’s no question it will affect us,” Connolly said. “A third of our economy here in Northern Virginia and in the National Capital Region is dependent directly on federal investment and spending.”
Connolly doesn’t want to hold the issue until the lame duck session after the election because that would mean three more months of uncertainty for companies that rely heavily on defense spending, many of which reside in Northern Virginia.
There are only 11 legislative days left before the election unless Congress elects to take up Connolly’s challenge and cancel all or part of their recess.