Tuesday February 19, 2013 | 02:48 PM

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress are back home in their districts this week despite the fact that lawmakers have failed to come up with a politically passable plan to avoid the indiscriminate, “meat ax” budget cuts slated to take effect in 10 days.

So the public can expect a steady stream of calls to action – and political posturing – as the first $85 billion of “sequestration” cuts draws closer.

The potential cuts are guaranteed to be part of the conversation on Thursday when Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King visit Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. About half of the $85 billion would come from the Department of Defense, so both shipyards would be affected by changes to the Navy’s ship-building and maintenance programs.

At the Portsmouth facility, for example, the Navy would seek to save roughly $300 million by delaying repairs to the fire-damaged U.S.S. Miami nuclear submarine and might furlough 4,700 civilian employees for up to 22 days. The impacts are less clear at BIW. But Navy officials have said they might have to delay a contract on a new destroyer unless Congress adopts a new budget or grants the Defense Department flexibility to spend money on new projects under the current budget.

Click here for more on the potential impacts in Maine.

Collins, a Republican, serves on the defense subcommittee of one of the congressional panels that decides how and where federal money is spent, the Senate Appropriations Committee. King, an independent serving his first term, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Maine’s two House members, meanwhile, raised their concerns about impacts to the shipyards in a letter to House Republican and Democratic leaders.

“Cuts to these Navy programs will jeopardize approximately 10,000 jobs at these facilities alone,” U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, both Democrats, wrote late last week. “These cuts will also have a severe effect on the thousands of jobs in the defense supply chain in Maine made up by dozens of small businesses throughout the state. Simply put, Maine’s economy will be devastated if the Navy is forced to take these measures to reduce their spending.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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