Thursday February 21, 2013 | 04:56 PM

WASHINGTON – With all of the talk of cuts to the defense budget, members of the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations are circling the wagons to attempt to protect the two states’ shipyards.

And key committee assignments could help in that effort.

For instance, Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins serves on the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for divvying up the federal budget.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte were recently appointed to the two top positions – chairman and ranking member, respectively – of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. Shaheen is a Democrat and Ayotte is a Republican.

The subcommittee oversees, among other things, Navy fleet maintenance as well industrial operations at the service’s shipyards. Maintenance is the primary responsibility of the 4,700 civilians and 1,500 or so service members who work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on the Maine-New Hampshire border. Bath Iron Works in Maine – one of four private Navy shipyards – has 5,000 employees.

As the panel’s two top members, Ayotte and Shaheen would also be well positioned to try to scuttle another attempt by the Pentagon to close military bases amid the budget crunch because the subcommittee reviews any Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, proposals.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard narrowly avoided closure during the last BRAC process in 2005 due, in part, to strong opposition from the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations. Shaheen, Ayotte and Collins voted last year as members of the subcommittee to reject a Pentagon request for additional BRAC rounds in 2013 and 2015.

And freshman Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, serves on the Senate Budget Committee and was named this week to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Seapower Subcommittee, which oversees contract procurement for the Navy.

Over in the House, Maine Rep. Mike Michaud, D-District 2, recently became the top-ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, giving him significant input on the committee’s work and direction.

Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, is also beginning her first term on the House Appropriations Committee.

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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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