House Members Vow to Protect Shipbuilding From Further Budget Cuts
Around 150 shipbuilding industry representatives, lawmakers and staff members gathered in the basement of the Rayburn Congressional Office Building for a March 29 breakfast hosted by the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition.
The event was part of a two-day "congressional action" activity organized by ACIBC.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said he will seek support for shipbuilding programs even as the Pentagon faces funding cuts. “When you’re dealing with difficult budget times, it’s very easy to take ships and move them to the right,” said Wittman, whose district includes the Huntington Ingalls' Newport News shipyard.
While the topic at hand was support for primary contractors and suppliers that build Navy ships, members of the House Shipbuilding Caucus who took the podium eventually circled back to sequestration — an across-the-board slash to government spending that would remove another $500 billion from the defense budget over the next decade.
Wittman called for a reasonable path to avoid sequestration, one that would give contractors time to plan for budget fluctuations. Other congressmen used harsher words to describe the impending cuts.
“Sequestration is a violent, violent course correction,” said Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican whose eastern Virginia district includes Naval Station Norfolk and Langley Air Force Base. “It’s unacceptable, really, from a moral standpoint.”
Rigell voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which required a special congressional committee to find $1.2 trillion in savings within the federal budget, or face sequester. Of 11 House members who spoke at the ACIBC event, all but three voted in favor of that legislation.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., who voted against the act, took time to announce a nationwide initiative to educate the public on “the wave of cuts that is going to come and hit the national defense of this country.”
“When you go out and talk to the general public, most of them don’t know what sequestration is,” Forbes said. Scheduled to be launched in May, the “Defending Our Defenders” tour will be the “largest defense tour our country has had,” he added.
Aside from dramatic talk of the consequences of further budget cuts, suppliers whose businesses depend on the construction of nuclear aircraft carriers said they were “cautiously optimistic.”
“We’re always worried a little bit,” saidSteve Shapiro, with the L.C. Doane Company. The Ivoryton, Conn.-based company makes lighting systems that are used primarily in Navy ships, including aircraft carriers.
Many of the industry representatives were from smaller contractors that seldom have a chance to speak with members of Congress directly. Prime contractors such as General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls are well represented in Washington, D.C., said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn. “They [prime contractors] have got great teams that are able to stay in constant, real-time contact with members’ offices,” he said.
Shapiro said every company represented in the room, his included, would “take a huge hit” if Congress decided to delay construction of aircraft carriers from the current delivery schedule of one every five years. “The Navy is by and large our biggest customer and I would suspect that’s true for everyone here,” he said. “We expect business to continue as usual. But whatever happens, you can’t lose the industrial base. If you lose the manufacturing capacity then it become that much more expensive to get it going again when you need it.”
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., framed the challenge of supporting a robust industrial base as a matter of national security. “We have lost most of our commercial industrial base in this country,” he said, adding that if government contracts dwindle, many companies have no other markets on which to rely. “We are 25 percent of the world’s economy and we build almost none of the world’s commercial ships. We need to get that industrial base back. It will make the things we do in the military cheaper. It will make us more flexible.”
Ultimately, shipbuilding may be one the few areas of the defense budget that is buoyed by the Obama administration’s strategic shift to the Pacific Ocean. The state of Hawaii is certainly banking on it, said Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat who voted in favor of the Budget Control Act. “The strategic pivot is extremely important to the state of Hawaii,” she said. “This industry should be seeing a renaissance like it’s never seen before.”