With large budget cuts less than two weeks away, the Quad-Cities’ two congressmen toured a local defense contractor Tuesday, lamenting the fact they weren’t in Washington, D.C., working to resolve the matter.
Reps. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., toured Mandus Group, a small Rock Island company that employs 45 people. It’s one of dozens of companies in the Quad-Cities that have a hand in the defense industry.
The military cuts would amount to $42 billion nationwide through the end of September, the first part of 10 years worth of reductions. An equal amount of cuts to non-defense programs also would take place.
In the Quad-Cities, the Rock Island Arsenal is one of the area’s largest employers, so much of the focus on sequestration’s impact has been on it. On the island, thousands of civilian workers face the potential of 22-day furloughs. But there also are contractors in the area that could feel the pinch. Mandus is one of them.
During Tuesday’s tour, company leaders showed off work on a hydraulic mobile maintenance system and a low-recoil howitzer it has had in development. Sam Kupresin, company vice president, said it’s not clear yet what impact the budget cuts would have on the firm. But Paul Rumler, vice president of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, who was along for the tour, told the lawmakers many of the companies are bracing themselves.
“Everybody’s preparing for the worst,” he said.
Vista International Operations, a private firm based on the island, employs 115 people. It provides information technology support to several Arsenal-based agencies. Craig Roberts, the company’s chief executive, said Tuesday he couldn’t predict the impact, either. But, he noted, if defense civilians are furloughed, his company could feel it, too. “If they furlough workers, they don’t need IT support. It could very much reduce our workload,” Roberts said.
About 500 Quad-City area companies have worked on $1.7 billion worth of military contracts over the past 10 years, according to the chamber. That works out to about 1 percent of the Quad-City area’s $18 billion annual economy. But it’s also a slice of the economy that area officials hope will grow, given the presence of the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center and agencies on the island that deal with large military contracts.
The budget cuts, which also go by the name sequestration, are due to take effect March 1. They were set in motion by a 2011 debt ceiling agreement between President Obama and congressional Republicans.
Bustos joined a letter to House Speaker John Boehner last week, complaining about going on a weeklong recess with the matter unresolved.
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Loebsack added the cuts are indiscriminate. “Sequestration is an easy decision. It’s an across-the-board cut. It’s not really making the hard choices that people are telling us we have to make,” Loebsack said.
The White House and congressional Republicans continued to snipe Tuesday over the prospects of the cuts.
The president has proposed replacing them with a combination of automatic spending reductions and revenue increases, while the Republican-controlled House last year passed a bill that would have eliminated the cuts on the defense side and pushed more of the reduced spending to non-defense programs.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats last week proposed a plan to replace the sequester with a combination of cuts to farm programs, new taxes on millionaires and defense cuts. The defense cuts would take place after the drawdown in Afghanistan has ended.
Liberals have pushed for Pentagon reductions, noting the base Pentagon budget has climbed from about $290 billion in 2001 to approximately $525 billion for 2013. Congress and the White House have already approved $487 billion in cuts over the next 10 years, but some progressives say the defense budget could give more.
Neither Bustos nor Loebsack said Tuesday what scale of defense cuts they might support. Loebsack said he thought “efficiencies” could be found in the military budget but that his priority is to ensure that the Arsenal be kept in a state of readiness.