Bassett is too anxious to wait to find out. His wife is having their first child in April, and she had to stop working for medical reasons. “If the budget doesn’t come in, they don’t have money for us,” Bassett said. “I haven’t told her yet . . . I didn’t want her to worry.”
It’s just a three-hour drive from Washington to this industrial city on the James River — where President Obama plans to appear Tuesday in his latest effort to get House Republicans to renegotiate across-the-board cuts set to begin Friday — but the distance between the politics of the nation’s capital and their consequences here is profound.
Obama is not seen in Newport News as any sort of savior but rather as the leader of a dysfunctional government that is playing havoc with people’s lives. Residents are bitter and resentful. It’s difficult to have a conversation without getting an earful of expletives. And there is little patience here for serving as political props in Washington’s latest budget drama.
“I don’t think the president ought to come down here,” said Lynn Hester, 55, whose son-in-law is a Navy veteran. “I think the president and the Senate and the Congress have let us down. I think they’ve let down the American people.”
A company town
Newport News sits at the heart of Hampton Roads, a region whose economy and identity are based largely on the tens of thousands of military personnel, contractors and veterans who live and work here. SEAL Team 6 is based in the region. Jets from Naval Air Station Oceana regularly buzz along the Virginia Beach coast. The Gallery at Military Circle mall in Norfolk sits just off Military Highway.
Newport News is where the Navy makes aircraft carriers and submarines, and this city of 180,000 feels like a company town, where generations of families have found good-paying jobs making something lasting.
Many fear that prideful past and the community it helped build will fall victim to Washington-style pettiness and irresponsibility. In language about as polite as it gets, many here feel jerked around by their national leaders.
“We’re paying them a whole lot of money . . . but they’re not doing a damn thing,” said Kenny Marr, a welding foreman who followed his grandfather and father into the shipyard nearly three decades ago. “If they cut here, then all the good they say they’re doing about jobs is going to disappear.”
Marr was drinking a Michelob Light with his brother-in-law David Somers at TJ’s Sports Tavern outside a shipyard entrance. Country hits, NASCAR highlights and “Gangnam Style” played in the background.