Ken Newton

St. Joseph News-Press

July 18–True, Congress authorized the cuts just last year. But members of the nation’s legislative body have now grown concerned over the impact defense spending reductions will have on the American military and economy come January.

The word “sequestration” hangs like a civic unpleasantness over the U.S. Capitol, that being $1 trillion or so in automatic budget cuts split evenly among defense and domestic programs.

Some of the same lawmakers who agreed to the budget trimming last summer (approved 218 to 210 in the House, 74 to 26 in the Senate) now see approaching reality as less appealing.

The House Armed Forces Committee will hold a hearing this morning focusing on how the sequestration will affect the nation’s defense industry. In fact, the prospect of contractor job losses in a still-shaky economy has emerged as a worry if the budget cuts take effect.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said defense contractors don’t know how to plan for the future.

“They really don’t know where they’re going to be January of next year, and that creates lots of problems,” he said in a conference call last week. “It is one of the problems that happens when government just won’t make decisions.”

Mr. Blunt, who sits on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, cited the defense industry as important to Missouri’s economy. That includes major players like Boeing and smaller companies that carry out specific contract chores.

Among local companies found on Defense Department contract lists in recent times are Lawhon Construction, WireCo Worldgroup, Lee Grover Construction and Altec Inc.

According to OMB Watch, a Washington-based non-profit agency promoting open government, defense contracts with work performed in Missouri amounted to $116.5 billion between the 2000 and 2011 fiscal years.

Another organization called The Coalition for the Common Defense, a military advocacy group, estimates the planned 18 percent sequestration over the next decade will cost Missouri about $1.63 billion a year in contracting work, based on 2011 outlays.

The across-the-board cuts came into play after Congress, and its specially appointed “supercommittee,” failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan late last year. This inaction launched the automatic triggers built into the Budget Control Act.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a bipartisan group in her chamber continues to work on a balanced deficit-reduction plan that incorporates spending cuts, changes in the tax code and entitlement reforms.

While she doesn’t believe sequestration will take place, the senator insisted there would be spending cuts and sees some value in having the Jan. 1 deadline.

“I think it’s important that that threat is looming because it keeps all of us busy trying to negotiate and find the compromises that will represent a balanced approach,” Ms. McCaskill said in a conference call with reporters last week.

Mr. Blunt and Ms. McCaskill both voted in favor of the Budget Control Act, as did Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas. Sen. Jerry Moran, also a Kansas Republican, voted against it.

In the House version, Reps. Sam Graves of Northwest Missouri and Lynn Jenkins of Northeast Kansas voted to approve the measure.

On May 10, the Republican-controlled House passed legislation to replace the sequestration with other mandatory cuts in spending. However, the bill did not get one Democratic vote and has not been taken up by the Senate.

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