Just hours before the Senate is set to vote on the last-ditch budget deal, the head of the powerful Aerospace Industries Association complimented Congress for coming to its senses – but, said Marion Blakey, this had better be just the beginning.
“I personally do not believe the American public likes to have the wool pulled over their eyes, likes to have supposed leaders of our Congress not step up and recognize what fundamental problems exist,” Blakey told a ballroom packed with industry and media dignitaries at the AIA’s annual luncheon.
The AIA has been campaigning fiercely from the beginning against the $1 trillion, 10-year cut to federal discretionary spending generally known as sequestration. The budget deal up for a vote today would slow those cuts down – but just by two years.
“If you’re honest about what we’re dealing with as a country and a society, you realize there are galactic forces at play here, certainly bigger than any one industry,” Blakey said sternly. “[We have] to be able our fiscal house in order by reining in our spending, by raising revenue, and by coming to terms with the real root cause of the problems in our fiscal picture and that is the mandatory spending” – not, she emphasized, the discretionary programs like the defense contracts on which so many of AIA’s member companies depend: “That’s not something we’re a part of.”
So, I asked Blakey when she opened the floor to questions, what is your message – your plea, even – to the Senators about to vote?
“The fact that this vote is going forward and we expect this budget del to pass indicates that our elected leaders are recognizing that sequestration is not the answer,” she replied. “The plea would be take these two years, and particularly this election year that’s coming up, to talk seriously with the electorate, talk seriously with the voters back home about the kind of changes we’re going to have to make in the way our federal budget is allocated, in the way our taxpayer dollars are allocated.”
“We want to see a candid dialogue about that, and coming out of that, a willingness to really step up and do what needs to be done,” Blakey said.
AIA has worked hard to get that dialogue started, though “candid” may be in the eye of the beholder.” Sometimes the AIA used alarmist and dubious economic forecasts of two million jobs lost nationwide to get across its point. So far, the aerospace and defense sector is down only 13,200 from last year, although that’s partly because booming commercial airliner sales have offset defense workforce reductions.
Blakey defended both those numbers – the 2013 sequester wasn’t as bad as anticipated, she said, but just you wait – and her association’s so-far-unsuccessful stop-sequester campaign: “We are very, very proud of the fight that we have put up, that the word sequestration is known everywhere.”
Really? I asked. When I was on C-Span Sunday morning talking about the defense budget, I said, not a single caller used the “s” word.
“I’ve been on a few of those early morning C-Span shows too,” Blakey replied. “I sometimes do wonder who’s on the other [end of the line] and what’s keeping them awake at night,” she said to laughter and applause.
“But,” Blakey went on, “we’ve got some very clear polling results, that the say the American public at this point does know what the sequestration involves, does understand the kind of budget cuts that are required under this. [This is] a much better informed electorate than when the Budget Control Act went into place.”
For now, though, Blakey’s relieved that the current deal would save the Defense Department from a $20 billion cut for 2014. “I’ll take it,” she said. “I am glad that we don’t have the specter of the two worst years of sequestration hovering over us right now, and yes, it’s nice that the government won’t shut down in the immediately foreseeable future…. but we can do better.”