BATH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The people who will win election to national office will be faced with many tough decisions. One of the biggest: How much can the country afford to spend on national defense? It's an issue that's been magnified by the looming "fiscal cliff"-- the January budget deadline, set by Congress, that would automatically and drastically slash spending for defense and some social programs. And while it may feel like a national debate, the jobs of thousands of Maine people could be a stake.
Maine is surprisingly vulnerable to cuts in the defense budget, because we have a n umber of businesses that depend on defense contracts. Small businesses, like Hodgdon Defense Composites of Bath. The company builds a 13-foot, high-speed boat designed to rescue polots who go down in the water. HDC has nine employees, but company president Dave Packhem says they also buy parts and services from more than twenty other businesses, most of them in Maine. That means the defense dollars get spread around.
The exact number of defense contractors in Maine isn't clear.
There are big companies, such as Bath Iron Works and Pratt and Whitney, along with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. And there are many maller, less well-known businesses, spread across the state, that work on direct contracts to the DoD, or supply parts and services to other contractors. Congressional sources estimate at least nine thousand Mainers work directly for defense firms, and the total number may well be more.
The "fiscal cliff", approaching in January, would cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget -and experts say about 40% of that would come from defense. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) says those cuts would be "devastating" to national defense and security. Washington analysts have projected the cuts would cost 4,000 Maine jobs.
Collins says she believes the "lame duck" session of Congress in November and December will find another way to address the budget problems. Other members of the delegation have suggested Congress will instead delay the decision and let a new Congress deal with it. Either way, many experts predict there will be some amount of defense cuts, and those cuts could hit Maine workers.
The Veterans Administration is apparently safe for the moment, since the VA budget is not on the chopping block from the "fiscal cliff" discussions. But retired Genera; Bill Libby, former commander of the Maine National Guard, says the United States will faces tough decisions when it comes to veterans. Libby says the VA does not have enough funding to adequately care for all the veterans we currently have, especially with the number of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with emotional problems from the war. "My real concern today," says Libby, "Is with those young men and women who have come back with emotional problems. PTSD is the easy way to sum it up.... I recently read a Rand study that said in terms of lost productivity, medical care and suicides, that we lose $6 billion dollars a year by not providing proper care to those persons who come back needing emotional care." Like defense spending issues, the needs of veterans will be a major challenge in the coming years for all those we elect to federal office next week.