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Unlikely to last

Published 10:03pm Monday, April 22, 2013

One sure way to unite Virginia politicians of all stripes is to threaten to cut defense spending in a manner that is potentially harmful to the local economy. The simple mention of the Base Realignment and Closure Act is enough to get Democrats and Republicans joining hands across the otherwise-unbridgeable divide that separates them. Suggest that the shipyard could lose a contract to build an aircraft carrier or that one of the big ships might be relocated to Florida, and suddenly all of Hampton Roads’ Democrats are hawks and all of its Republicans can be heard lauding the beneficent nature of Big Government.

Just as it is sometimes said (if with decreasing accuracy) regarding the nation that “all politics ends at the water’s edge,” it can also be said of Hampton Roads that all politics ends at Gate 5. Anything that threatens Oceana — or, for that matter, Fort Eustis or Little Creek Amphibious Base or Langley Air Force Base or any of the commands and detachments that support them throughout the region — is a threat to us all and will be fought with equal determination from both sides of the political divide.

The area’s congressional delegation put that mutual defense plan into action last week with a missive to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in which congressmen and senators called on the Pentagon to pursue sequestration-related furloughs with a level of restraint and common sense. The bipartisan letter stated that furloughs would “unacceptably erode employee morale” among the thousands of Hampton Roads civilian employees who could be affected.

The Pentagon already has postponed the furloughs it had expected to implement as a result of the fiscal-planning sequestration debacle on Capitol Hill, and it has trimmed the expected duration of the furloughs 22 to 14 days. Now members of Congress from Hampton Roads, along with Virginia’s two senators, have joined to ask that Department of Defense brass give leaders of the various branches of the U.S. military “full flexibility” to carry out the furlough plans in the way that best fits the needs of each branch.

It seems a reasonable request, made by a reasonable group of people. In fact, the sheer reasonableness of the request belies the jaw-dropping unreasonableness of the same group of people in the “negotiations” that led to the meltdown in relations that sequestration represents.

The fact that members of Congress can set aside their philosophical differences in pursuit of the common goal of protecting jobs at home just proves that they have the ability to compromise and to work together like regular adults when it suits them to do so. Such compromise makes it that much harder to fathom the obdurate attitudes that inform so much of their regular work.

Voters might like to think that the recent cooperative effort represents a change in attitude, but it seems unlikely to last, so they should relish it while they can.

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