March 2, 2013

Federal budget stalemate: Defense workers brace for the worst

Federal spending cuts are likely to have real consequences for military employees and the businesses that rely on them.

By STEVE PEOPLES The Associated Press

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Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers Kevin Do, left, Don Hanson and Paul O’Connor sit at nearby Mojo’s BBQ in Kittery on Wednesday. They and other defense workers are bracing for reduced pay and possible layoffs due to federal budget cuts enacted Friday.

The Associated Press

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Even as automatic spending cuts take effect by midnight Friday, the White House and Congress are looking ahead to several more budget battles in the coming weeks. They include:

Avoiding government shutdown: Lawmakers and the White House face a March 27 deadline to prevent a partial shutdown of government agencies. That's when a six-month stopgap funding bill passed last fall runs out. The GOP-led House plans the week of March 4 to approve a plan that would include new line-by-line budgets for the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration while keeping domestic agencies on autopilot, frozen at last year's levels. Senate Democrats would like to incorporate more detailed spending bills for domestic programs but may face opposition from Republicans wary of concocting a foot-tall "omnibus" spending bill.

2014 budget plans: In mid-March, both the House and Senate are expected to debate rival budget plans. These budget resolutions are non-binding but represent an important statement of party principles. The House GOP plan promises to come to balance by the end of a decade without raising taxes; the alternative by Senate Democrats is expected to mix in new revenues and not show balance. The two sides are not expected to be able to reconcile their differences, which promises to make it difficult to pursue follow up legislation like the 12 annual appropriations bills.

Obama's budget.: In mid-late March, Obama is expected to release his budget - over a month behind schedule. Budget observers will be watching for new initiatives that might help spur budget negotiations. But if he follows past practice, Obama's budget will take few, if any, political risks.

-- The Associated Press

A Pew/USA Today poll this week found 49 percent of Americans would blame congressional Republicans if Obama and Congress couldn't strike a deal. Thirty-one percent would blame Obama, 11 percent would blame both and 8 percent were unsure.

On federal spending in general, an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday found significantly more Americans in favor of Obama's handling of federal spending than Republicans in Congress, although neither side earned high marks. Half of the country disapproved of Obama's handling of the issue, while two-thirds disapproved of congressional Republicans.

The political stakes meant little to the workers gathered outside the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard this week during their lunch break.

"Both sides put us here," said Huntley, who had already lost his house because of his wife's medical bills. "At my age I should be in my golden years. As the guys around me say, the golden years have taken the gold and just left me the years."

Next up for Congress and the White House is how to avoid Washington's coming crisis, which threatens a government shutdown after March 27, when a six-month spending bill enacted last year expires.

In Kittery, Do offered elected leaders a reminder: "They forget it's faces and families," he said. "There's a cloud over a lot of people."


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