Bitter harvest on the way

Published 11:29 pm Saturday, February 9, 2013

In an unfolding crisis that surprises exactly nobody, the United States is galloping along toward another fiscal cliff at the end of the month. Sequestration — the across-the-board spending cuts that were agreed to as a last-resort, never-gonna-happen, partial resolution to the problem of the nation’s out-of-control debt habit — was postponed temporarily by the congressional agreement made on Jan. 1 that raised taxes on individuals who earn more than $400,000 a year and couples who earn more than $450,000.

Absent from the final agreement were any spending cuts, despite the claims by the president and members of his party that they wanted a balanced approach to fiscal soundness that included tax increases and reduced spending. Further, the agreement postponed sequestration for two months on the theory that members of Congress would not dare allow the indiscriminate axe of sequestration to fall.

But failing some new last-minute agreement before the March 1 deadline, the decisions on spending cuts will be taken out of Congress’ hands, as $110 billion worth of cuts from sequestration finally come due.


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Hampton Roads is already seeing the ill tide borne by that storm. Within the past week, the Department of Defense announced that it would permanently reduce the U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf by 50 percent, canceling a planned deployment by the USS Harry S. Truman just days before the ship was to have sailed. The U.S. Navy expects to save about $300 million a year from the change in national defense policy that had called for two carriers to be present in the strategically important region.

Two days later, the Navy announced that it would not immediately proceed with plans to refuel the USS Abraham Lincoln in light of its uncertain budget. The Lincoln has been moored at the Norfolk Naval Station since August, and crewmembers have been removing unnecessary equipment in preparation for the carrier’s three-year, $3.3-billion midlife refueling and complex overhaul.

Both decisions will have obvious effects on the thousands of sailors who serve upon the ships and upon those that sail with them and support them while at sea. Both decisions also could be strategically detrimental to the nation’s security. But the hard economic consequences of these two decisions will hurt Virginia — and especially Hampton Roads — more than they hurt any other part of the country.

From ship-fitters to graphic designers, the area’s shipbuilding industry will feel especially negative consequences. But the repercussions ultimately will be felt in all parts of the Hampton Roads economy, which depends on its military presence to be healthy and robust, not weak and strapped for cash.

Like prophets in the wilderness, the pundits who have been predicting the coming disaster have found their voices overwhelmed by the winds of apathy. And even though apathy had no bearing on the legitimacy of the prophecy, it has served to reinforce the likelihood of the doom that had been foretold. Today, we are seeing the fruits of that apathy. We can only pray that politicians in Washington intervene in time to avert the true, bitter harvest we have been warned about.