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Warner: Defense industry shares blame for sequester

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With massive budget cuts looming, Sen. Mark Warner has a message for the defense industry: This is your fault, too.

Warner made his feelings clear Friday morning at a Northern Virginia Technology Council breakfast in Reston with Sen. Timothy M. Kaine. The audience of defense and technology executives let both Virginia Democrats know how concerned they are about the pending budget “sequester,” which will automatically slice both defense and domestic spending March 1.

When Cord Sterling, a vice president at the Aerospace Industries Association, asked why it’s taken so long for Congress to get serious about averting the sequester, Warner didn’t mince words. Long a zealous advocate for a bipartisan deficit reduction deal, Warner said the defense and technology industries share some responsibility for not making sacrifices of their own.

“We have muffed this thing four times,” Warner said. “We blew it on the debacle, that was an embarrassment to be in Congress, on the debt ceiling. We blew it on the supercommittee. We blew it when they undermined the bipartisan efforts, and candidly, we blew it on New Year’s Eve. And yeah, we ought to get 80, 90, whatever percent of the blame. But you ought to take some of the blame too.

“Because every time there’s been efforts to try to build a broader coalition to say let’s go ahead and take this on, and get out of our individual political foxholes and get out of our individual industry foxholes, most of y’all have said, ‘Well, I don’t want to’ anger ‘this guy or that guy or this chairman or that chairman’.”

Warner said that groups like AIA were only concerned with avoiding sequestration. And he complained that many in both the defense and technology communities had failed to support the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan group seeking to mobilize support for a debt deal.

When CEOs of many Fortune 500 companies came together to back the group, Warner said, “the thing that just blows my mind ... the industry that was most absent from that list was the defense industry. Now, when it’s, ‘Oh my God, it’s really going to happen, what are y’all going to do?’ It would have been great if you’d been in the fight in more than an ‘attaboy’ way over the last couple of years.”

Asked for comment, Sterling said he was “very surprised” by Warner’s remarks.

AIA has said before that it recognizes that defense spending needs to be part of the broader deficit-reduction solution, and Sterling said he believed at least seven CEOs who belong to his group had signed on to the Campaign to Fix the Debt effort. AIA has also contributed money to the Bipartisan Policy Center, a key player in deficit talks.

“To say that we are not participating in it, I would say the facts do not agree with the statement that he made,” Sterling said.

Kaine, for his part, said after the event that he understood why Warner was frustrated.

“There’s blame to go around,” Kaine said. “In a situation where everybody’s to blame, let’s not spend any time on finger pointing, let’s just find the fix.”

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