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Anxiety rising in Puget Sound defense community as “sequestration” threat looms

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Aug. 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
August 17, 2012 12:53 pm

Military service members and people with jobs linked to the defense industry in Washington are starting to voice more concerns about how the threat of so-called sequestration might impact their businesses this fall.

I heard that anxiety Tuesday when Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., met with the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership in Lakewood. Murray assured the group of military and local government leaders that lawmakers do not want to see the $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that would come to pass under sequestration unless Congress makes a budget deal by Jan. 2.

Lawmakers set the stage for sequestration when they passed the Budget Control Act of 2011. It required them to find a $1.2 trillion in a long-term deficit reduction plan or risk the consequences of automatic budget-slashing sequestration. The Defense Department would lose about $500 billion over 10 years under sequestration, with $55 billion coming out of the Pentagon budget immediately.

“Sequestration really is supposed to be the ball and chain that says, ‘We can’t do this,’” Murray said Tuesday.

We’re publishing a story Sunday that shares more thoughts from Washington lawmakers about how Congress might avert sequestration, as well a description of what this state stands to lose.

No really knows for sure how the cuts might take place. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last month urged lawmakers to fashion a deal soon so the Pentagon doesn’t spend money cancelling contracts for work that would end under sequestration only to have the projects launch again next year.

One estimate for how sequestration would impact the country comes from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, which predicts the loss of 1 million defense jobs and another 1 million jobs in non-defense domestic programs. Here’s a link to the report. It estimates that Washington State would lose more than 41,000 jobs.

Next month, the White House is due to receive a better estimate of sequestration’s probable impacts. Murray thinks that report will spur lawmakers to action because it would give a “right, honest” description of the sudden budget cuts.

Many people watching Congress believe lawmakers will strike a temporary deal to avert sequestration. That would take away the immediate threat, but maintain the uncertainty of how lawmakers will cut spending to reduce the deficit, said Gary Brackett, who tracks defense issues for the Tacoma Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

“In some respects, it only increases the uncertainty,” Brackett said. “Congress has been doing that kicking the can down the road on a lot of issues recently.”

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