Defense lawmakers push bill to allow repair work on ships

Ongoing work to draft a new continuing resolution bill to fund the Pentagon at fiscal year 2013 levels will include certain legislative “anomalies” to get those ship repair and maintenance projects going, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) told The Hill on Monday. 

{mosads}The Navy will be forced to 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.

Forbes, who heads up the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, said the chances were “pretty high” the yet-to-be unveiled resolution will “correct a great deal of those” warship repair cuts in the Navy’s coffers. 

The Navy does not need additional money to stave off the ship repair cuts, Forbes explained. All the sea service needs is congressional blessing to move existing funds under the CR into accounts that would finance the ship repair work. 

That said “a lot of that [money] will be put back in” to Navy readiness and repair accounts, once lawmakers finally weigh in on the new CR package, the Virginia Republican added. 

The current continuing resolution, which has kept DOD running over the past few months, is set to expire on March 27. That expiration date is nearly three weeks after the $500 billion in automatic cuts under sequestration are slated to hit DOD. 

A number of top congressional lawmakers have conceded the fact the budget reductions under sequestration will be triggered March 1. 

“Sequester is going to kick in and as people see what it is … that will hopefully force us” to come up with a solution for stopping them, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) told reporters during a breakfast in Washington last Friday. 

A first step toward that goal, according to Forbes, will be addressing some of sequestration’s impacts — particularly on the Navy — in the upcoming continuing resolution negotiations on Capitol Hill. 

Once sequester does kick in, the political pressure the plan will put on Congress will allow “cooler minds” to prevail during the CR talks and “make this [Navy plan] become workable,” Forbes said. 

President 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.

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.

While Forbes was confident reductions to ship repair work would be addressed in the CR, he did not mention any effort to prevent the furloughs outlined by the White House.

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