Navy warns sequester cuts will put off repairs to a dozen warships

The Navy will put off repairs and upgrades to a dozen warships because of the sequester, according to the White House.

The service will scuttle maintenance work on 11 vessels stationed in Norfolk, Va., and will delay work on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. All of the ships are stationed at the Navy's main shipyard hub in Norfolk, the headquarters on the Eastern Seaboard for the U.S. fleet.

About half of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set for March 1 target the Pentagon, and the White House is engaged in an aggressive public relations push to highlight the negative effects from the cuts.

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Obama is set to visit the Navy shipyards in Newport News on Tuesday, when he is expected to detail the effects the sequester would have on the Navy’s readiness.

The visit will be "to highlight the fact that there will be real-world impacts to the implementation of the sequester if that takes place — if Republicans allow it to take place. It's a wholly unnecessary self-inflicted wound on the American economy," White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week.

Both the White House and congressional Republicans have decried the cuts to the Pentagon, neither side has held serious talks this year about avoiding them. Republicans would replace the cuts only with a separate package of spending cuts, while the White House wants to delay the cuts or replace them with a package of both spending cuts and tax hikes.

The announcement on repairs was included in a state-by-state breakdown of sequestration's effects released by the Obama administration on Sunday.

In addition to the delayed warship work, nearly 90,000 Navy and Pentagon civilian employees working in the Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton Roads areas in eastern Virginia will be furloughed under sequestration, according to the White House. Overall, up to 800,000 Defense Department civilian employees could be furloughed, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned last week.

Republican lawmakers representing the three Virginia cities warned the consequences of the cuts would be deep, but offered no signals they were interested in moving on the key issue of taxes.

Rep. Randy Forbes, head of the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee whose district straddles areas of Norfolk and Newport News, introduced legislation on Monday that would eliminate sequester cuts affecting the Defense Department.

“Lawmakers in Washington have crossed a red line in our constitutional duty ... to provide for the common defense," the Virginia Republican said in a statement Monday.

"This bill represents an opportunity for lawmakers to blunt sequestration's debilitating impact on national defense," he added.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), whose district is centered in Hampton Roads, said the fiscal and national security impact of sequestration is already being felt among his constituents.

"Work for shipyard workers has been delayed, and many men and women in uniform have been asked to stay home just days before they were set to deploy, injecting a great deal of stress on service members and their families," he said.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has accused the Pentagon and White House of unnecessarily raising questions about U.S. military readiness in an effort to put pressure on Republicans to bend in the fight over the sequester.

"I am concerned that these decisions are being made for the purpose of adding drama to the sequestration debate," Hunter said in a letter sent to Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter earlier this month.

Along with the ship maintenance cuts, Navy and Pentagon officials also decided last week to delay the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman to the Persian Gulf, saying the service could not afford to send the ship to the region as a result of sequestration.

That move leaves U.S. naval forces with only one carrier strike in the Gulf to deal with potential maritime threats in the region, particularly from Iran.