WASHINGTON – Gov. Paul LePage has joined other Republicans in accusing the Obama administration of playing politics with defense contractors’ jobs prior to the election.
The White House, meanwhile, suggested that Republicans are putting the wealthiest Americans ahead of funding for national security programs by not working with Democrats to avert massive across-the-board spending cuts.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the White House, LePage criticized the Obama administration for advising defense companies that they were not required to notify employees about potential layoffs due to the across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration.”
The first round of those cuts – half of which will come from defense budgets — will kick in Jan. 2 unless Congress takes steps to avoid them.
“While the timing may be inconvenient, communities and employers deserve to know about the potential mass layoffs and, even more, the law requires it,” wrote LePage, a Republican.
A federal law known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires companies with 100 or more employees to notify workers 60 days prior to planned large-scale layoffs or plant closures as a way to help them and their home states prepare.
In this instance, however, the administration determined that layoff warnings are not merited because even if Congress fails to avert the cuts, it is still too early to say which contracts or jobs would be affected. And those jobs that are impacted may not be affected for many months.
“To give notices to workers who will not suffer an employment loss both wastes the states’ resources in providing rapid response activities where none are needed and creates unnecessary uncertainty and anxiety in workers,” the Department of Labor wrote in a July guidance sent to federal contractors. “Both of these effects are inconsistent with the WARN Act’s intent and purpose.”
Republicans and Democrats in Congress approved sequestration on an assumption that the mere threat of such indiscriminate “meat ax” cuts would force lawmakers to find another way to address the federal deficit.
But the two parties have yet to agree on an alternative amid partisan disagreement over taxes. And now, sequestration has become yet another political pawn ahead of the November elections, with Republicans and Democrats blaming each other for the inaction.
Meanwhile, millions of jobs nationwide are potentially at stake. For instance, a White House report released last month said Navy shipbuilding and conversion – an industry that directly supports nearly 10,000 workers in Bath and Kittery – would be cut $2.1 billion next year under sequestration.
Congressional Republicans have accused the White House of ignoring the WARN Act requirements in order to avoid having thousands of workers receiving layoff notices just prior to Election Day. Democrats, meanwhile, have accused Republicans of delaying work on the cuts for political gain.
In his letter, LePage urged the president to work with Congress to avoid cuts that could cost Maine thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars.
But LePage also accused the administration of a “lack of transparency” and abdicating its responsibilities under the WARN Act. He also echoed Republican opposition to the administration’s offer to cover the costs of any fines that companies incur if they are sued under the WARN Act.
“It is now time to put politics aside and actually move America forward,” LePage wrote. “I urge you to support finding a resolution to avert the disastrous effects of sequestration. I hope you will encourage the Senate, and particularly the [Democratic] Senate Majority Leader, to take action before it is too late.”
White House spokesman Keith Maley suggested that LePage’s party can control whether the cuts happen.
“The sequester will go into effect only if Republicans continue to prioritize tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires ahead of critical national security funding,” Maley said in a statement. “We hope Republicans will back an approach put forward by the president and other bipartisan panels, like Simpson-Bowles, that both cuts government spending and asks the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.”