Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’ congressional district includes Fort Bragg and many civilian defense workers and defense businesses that will be hard hit by across-the-board spending cuts. But Ellmers says that she’s getting support for her position that the cuts are necessary.
“The calls that we’re really getting are more people saying ‘Thank you for not giving in on this issue. We know it’s going to be painful, and we know we have communities that are going to be affected by this, but we feel very strongly that spending needs to be cut,’ ” Ellmers said in an interview Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, the House passed a “continuing resolution” that funds the government through September. The bill maintained the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that went into effect Friday after Congress and the White House were unable to agree to an alternative. It also provided some additional spending and flexibility for the Defense Department.
The bill passed easily in the Republican-controlled House, 267-151, and Ellmers voted in favor of it.
Ellmers said the across-the-board cuts, also known as sequestration, were not the right way to cut federal spending.
“The issue here is, $85 billion is really just a small fraction” of needed spending cuts, Ellmers said. “It’s not going in and cutting a chunk of your budget. It’s just slowing the growth over time.”
Ellmers called it “an essential first step” toward a goal of balancing the budget in 10 years. She agreed with other Republicans who have called the automatic cuts a necessary evil.
Republicans and Democrats in Washington blame each other for intransigence on the budget.
“If they’re not going to come to the table, we still need to get those spending cuts,” Ellmers said. “And again, as painful as they are, they need to go into place. That’s why I stuck to my guns on it.”
Still, Ellmers said, the effects of the budget cuts will be felt in North Carolina, with the state’s large defense industry facing military spending reductions.
“It really affects us, the Fort Bragg and Fayetteville areas especially,” she said. “However, because that was proposed so long ago, they’ve been making adjustments in the event it went into effect.
“They understand that I stand for business. They understand I stand for efficiency. So they’re working along with us.”
Republicans prefer other spending cuts they selected last year. Ellmers said they could cut the $85 billion by cutting waste and inefficiency in the federal budget.
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats want to reduce the deficit through both spending cuts and tax hikes. Republicans want to achieve the balance with spending reductions and no additional tax revenue.
Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill, a Democrat who represents the 4th district, argued that locking in the sequester cuts in the spending levels for the rest of the federal fiscal year was the wrong approach.
“Instead of avoiding sequestration with a balanced deficit reduction package, this CR (continuing resolution, or spending bill) will lock in these devastating cuts – impairing vital government functions, reducing the paychecks of thousands of American workers, and undermining our economic recovery, costing three-quarters of a million jobs according to the” Congressional Budget Office, Price said on the House floor.
The bill might give the military “marginally greater flexibility,” Price added, “but we are not sparing them from the sledgehammer of sequestration.”
Joy Thrash, executive director of the N.C. Defense Business Association, said the automatic cuts would have a direct impact on businesses because some stand to lose federal contracts. In addition, civilian workers at Fort Bragg and other military installations face furloughs of one day per week starting in April. They’ll have less money to spend, and other businesses will feel the impact, Thrash said.
Ellmers supports the military and businesses, as do the other members of the state’s congressional delegation, Thrash said.
Ellmers said it’s possible she’ll hear more complaints if the furloughs start to take effect.
“We will address that issue if it occurs,” she said.
Republican Rep. George Holding of Raleigh also voted for the sequester-level spending bill. Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro who’s been recovering at home after experiencing fainting spells, said in a statement he would have voted for the bill if he’d been in Washington.
Democratic Reps. Price and G.K. Butterfield of Wilson voted against it. Rep. Mike McIntyre, Democrat from Lumberton, did not vote.
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