Roe on sequestration spending cuts: 'Maybe we need to do this'

Hank Hayes • Feb 14, 2013 at 9:01 AM

Sequestration — automatic reductions in federal defense and non-defense spending — remains on track to begin March 1, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said Thursday.

“How it will play out after that when the cuts are really occurring, we will have to wait and see,” Roe, R-Tenn., said in a conference call with reporters.

In August 2011, Congress voted for the threat of sequestration as a mechanism to force federal lawmakers to act on deficit reduction.

But ongoing spending battles between a politically divided Congress and President Barack Obama haven’t been resolved, thus raising a specter of harmful cuts.

“The sequestration itself was never intended to be implemented,” said a White House position paper. “The (Obama) Administration strongly believes that sequestration is bad policy, and that Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package. ... Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument.”

While Roe acknowledges no one may gain from the sequestration process, he said the GOP-controlled House had to take a stand over federal spending.

“I think what we’re saying is ‘Somewhere along the line, someone has to dig their heels in,’” Roe told reporters. “If we think spending is a problem, and the president doesn’t think so, ... he said ‘The cutting is almost done.’ ... He’s absolutely wrong about that. ... Republicans don’t like the defense cuts. The Democrats don’t like the other cuts. When both sides don’t like something, maybe it’s a pretty good deal. Maybe we need to do this. ... You cannot balance the budget ... on just discretionary spending.”

One Kingsport-based organization having a problem with the defense cuts in sequestration is BAE Systems, the operating contractor for the Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HAAP).

Nigel House, vice president of operations at BAE Systems in Kingsport, noted HAAP is now undergoing a $144 million modernization project called A2B. This project relocates HAAP operations at Area A along Wilcox Drive to the main plant, Area B. The project is funded through the U.S. Army.

“Modernization has been very important to us,” House said of the project. “I think as we move forward this year, we are still pretty stable in our work. We’ve got virtually all of our production orders for the year, and we’ve got all the modernization projects in place. Our concern is that they now start cutting this year what they’d be starting in 2014. It’s next year’s work that concerns us. ... Then what will we do with the people during that time?”

Tony Hewitt, BAE Systems’ director of commercial development and community relations, added: “I think the government continues to recognize the value of this facility to supporting the war fighter. But for this plant, it’s a double hit if we’re not careful because we’re faced with the (troop) drawdown coming out of Afghanistan and as that happens, the demand on our products will be on a downward trend. And then there’s this threat of defense cuts. ... We are doing everything as a company to lobby and make our views felt. ... It hits home in the heart of Kingsport at a facility that’s been a part of the community for years.”

Roe noted he agrees with Obama’s call to end military operations in Afghanistan. “I do think it’s time to leave,” Roe said.

Roe was also asked about Obama’s appeal for Congress to vote on his gun control measures, including an assault weapons ban and a limit on ammunition availability.

Roe had previously said he didn’t think the House GOP majority would approve those measures.

“I think there are a gazillion things floating on (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid’s desk right now ... that never got a vote,” Roe pointed out. “(What Obama appealed for was) nothing unique, just political theater that the president did on this emotional issue.”

Sharon Caskey Hayes contributed to this story.

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