A shipyard worker in Portsmouth set fire to the USS Miami in May 2012, causing $400 million in damage to the nuclear attack submarine. While the fire was devastating, it was the Budget Control Act of 2011 rather than the act of an arsonist that sealed the fate of this critical defense asset.

Last week, the Navy announced that it would be deactivating the Miami because of automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, set in motion by the Budget Control Act.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are among those in Washington on an earnest quest to end sequestration, but this band of pragmatists will face intense partisan obstacles along its journey to a fiscal fix.

When passed, the Budget Control Act maintained federal government solvency by increasing our nation’s debt ceiling while also establishing mechanisms for deficit reduction that did not require, at the time, the elimination of a single program or any tax increases.

In yet another example of how Congress can make the challenges of today the crises of tomorrow, the Budget Control Act established a Joint Standing Committee on Deficit Reduction to identify $1.2 trillion in sensible deficit reductions.

The committee failed to reach agreement, resulting in $85 billion in automatic cuts that went into effect earlier this year.

Half the sequester affects defense spending; the rest is spread among mandatory and discretionary domestic programs.

The cuts will increase and continue through 2021, forcing agencies to make tough spending decisions, as was the case with the USS Miami.

According to a George Mason University report, Maine will lose 7,268 jobs through 2013 as a result of the sequester, reducing the state’s economic output by $700 million and slashing incomes by $372 million.

King, a member of both the Senate Budget and Armed Services committees, has been particularly focused on the impact that automatic spending cuts will have on national defense.

Last month, King observed, “The most serious threat to national security is the United States Congress because of our inability to pass a rational budget.”

In March of this year, King worked with his colleagues in the Senate to pass a fiscal-year 2014 budget resolution that would eliminate the sequester and cut $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 years through spending cuts and higher taxes.

Partisan objections have blocked the establishment of a conference committee to reconcile the budgets passed by the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Collins told the Portland Regional Chamber last week that the sequester is a “very poor way to legislate.”

So too was the Senate’s inability earlier this month to proceed to and pass a $54 billion transportation and housing and urban development appropriations bill that Collins co-authored and managed.

Five of the six Republican Appropriations Committee members who had supported the THUD bill in committee voted against moving forward with floor consideration of the bill.

(The sixth, Collins, was the only Republican to vote to advance the bill.)

Republican opposition to the bill was led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., prompting Collins to remark that McConnell “has never worked harder against a member of his own party than he did against me today.”

While Collins refused to speculate on McConnell’s motivation, the five-term senator from Kentucky proclaimed that the Republican Party under his leadership would abide by the spending commitments of the Budget Control Act.

His political life depends on it.

McConnell serves the Bluegrass State along with Sen. Rand Paul, a presidential aspirant who is extremely popular among conservative Kentucky voters. To earn re-election to the Senate in 2014, McConnell, a target of attack for some national conservative groups, must overcome a tea party-backed primary challenger and a Democratic opponent with a slight lead in some early polls.

McConnell also must work with House Republican leaders who hold majority control on their side of Capitol Hill and are strongly influenced by their conservative base and caucus.

The House transportation bill, for example, has yet to receive floor consideration but came out of committee almost $10 billion below the Senate version.

Here in Maine, our senators are celebrated and re-elected for their thoughtful, independent approach to governing. Consequently, it can be hard for Mainers to understand the partisan pressures of Washington, the political realities of other states, and how those factors combine to create gridlock.

Congress recessed for August without passing a single appropriations bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

It has been more than three years since Congress has passed a federal budget, and we are starting to hear talk of a government shutdown and another debt crisis this fall.

I have little doubt that Congress will find a way to avoid both calamities and meaningful solutions.

While it seems paradoxical, partisan and parochial interests have taken us to a place where deliberative governing fails to be good politics.

The best we can hope for from Washington is an avoidance of the very worst.

Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @demerittdan


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.