The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Top News

March 1, 2013

U.S. workers anxious as cuts set to take effect

KITTERY, Maine — They don’t care which side caused Washington’s latest crisis.

Five hundred miles from Capitol Hill, the men and women of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are worrying about paying rent, searching for new jobs and caring for sick loved ones.

Almost the entire workforce, a community of more than 5,000 along the Maine and New Hampshire seacoast, is preparing to lose the equivalent of a month’s pay because of Congress’ inability to resolve another budget stalemate.

Orsom “Butch” Huntley, 63, a shipyard employee for three decades, is already living paycheck to paycheck while caring for his terminally ill wife.

“Congress doesn’t look at the individual. They just look at the bottom line. And it just really makes it tough to think we’re just a number to them,” Huntley, a computer engineer, said this week in a restaurant outside the shipyard gate. “It’s going to be totally devastating.”

The fear is consuming military communities as the nation braces for budget cuts designed to be so painful they would compel Congress to find better ways to cut the federal deficit. President Barack Obama and governors from across the nation have intensified calls for compromise in recent days to meet Friday’s deadline.

Defense officials warn of diminished military readiness as the cuts begin to bite. Economists warn of damage to a delicate economic recovery. And federal officials warn of travel delays, slashed preschool access and closed national parks.

But in small towns whose economies are deeply tied to the military, there is a human impact that breeds anger and fear.

Across the table from Huntley, facilities engineer Kevin Do explains that he and his wife — also a shipyard employee — have already delayed plans to buy their first home because of uncertainty created by Washington. With a 4-year-old son in daycare, he’s now looking for part-time construction work to help pay the bills, even if it means working seven days a week.

“We basically put the American dream on hold,” Do said.

Preparing for a worst-case scenario, Navy officials have plans to force mandatory furloughs on roughly 186,000 civilian employees across the country. People like Huntley and Do would lose 22 paid days between April and October, or roughly 20 percent of their pay. Shipyards from coast to coast have outlined cost-cutting plans to delay huge maintenance contracts on nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

Some states are facing more pain than others. Oklahoma has five military installations.

 

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