“They spend our money like a drunk sailor. . . . ‘We’ll give you a little bit of something, a little piece of cheese.’ Dangle that cheese. We’re pawns, that’s what we are,” he said.
But Somers has four kids and ultimately, he said: “I’m willing to accept anything to turn the country around. If it takes me getting laid off, so be it.”
Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), who represents the nearby Chesapeake area and has constituents who work at the Newport News shipyard, introduced legislation Monday to exclude the Defense Department from sequestration and to cut the total savings target by that much.
“When people are afraid of losing their jobs, and they see how poorly this has been handled, it’s easy for them to be mad at everybody,” Forbes said. He’s glad Obama is coming to town, but when the smoke clears and the president’s divisive advocacy ends, he said, they will realize he is to blame.
Executives from defense behemoth Huntington Ingalls Industries, which runs Newport News Shipbuilding, say they are disappointed by the delays in the massive, carefully staged Lincoln overhaul project, which will end up costing taxpayers even more later. Other contractors in Hampton Roads have already warned of major potential layoffs.
“The way you keep costs down is to have predictability and continuity — the exact opposite of what we have right now,” said Newport News City Manager Neil Morgan, who keeps close tabs on operations at the shipyard, the city’s “powerhouse employer.”
City officials dread the possibility that they could be in limbo for the next six or eight months. “We all hope that’s not what we’re dealing with,” Morgan said.
‘They’re messing with me’
The uncertainty is another hit as Newport News emerges from years of sagging property values, and the effects are already being felt in a city where boarded-up shops and payday lenders coexist with historic homes and upscale restaurants.
“People are not spending what they used to,” said Ronnie McKellar, a barber and Army veteran who has seen his customer base drop by half since last fall because of military job relocations, contractor layoffs and doubts about the future. “That’s less income for me. You can’t save money if you don’t have money to save. I feel myself going to my savings account.”
The job market beyond the comfortable confines of the military can be brutal.
After grabbing dinner at Hot Dog King, where she has come for 40 years, Lynn Hester talked about her disappointment in Washington while her son-in-law chronicled his year-long struggle to find a permanent job.
“I understand a little bit better what the people during the Great Depression went through trying to find work,” said Jeremy Marks, 34, who had left the Navy after a dozen years. “I decided to get out, like an idiot. I didn’t realize how bad the economy was, because in the military you don’t realize it.”
He put in 200 applications — pizza jobs, forklift jobs, Taco Bell — and faced rejection after rejection before a temp agency finally sent him to a fuel-injector factory that likes to take former service members. They needed someone immediately. He started a week ago.
His wife, Vanessa, will use Marks’s GI Bill education benefit to get a master’s in marriage and family therapy, and she hopes to eventually find a job in one of the region’s Christian counseling services. Vanessa’s mother, who is on disability as she fights cancer, said Marks did a little dance when the job finally came through and Hester could stop supporting — and hounding — him.
“They should be too embarrassed to show their face,” Hester said. She saves particular skepticism for Democrats, who she said “in general have never looked out for the military.”
Daryl Johnson, a retired Army officer from Newport News who works as a college math tutor, still gets hot thinking about the consequences of an earlier budget fight in the 1970s.
He was stationed at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground and had to reach into his savings when soldiers didn’t get paid for two pay periods. They were eventually made whole, and Pentagon officials today are planning to furlough civilians first to try to protect service members. But Johnson wants Obama to come to Hampton Roads and take it straight to his colleagues at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
“I put it on Congress, I don’t put it on him,” Johnson said. “They’re messing with the military, and I don’t appreciate it. They’re messing with me. He needs to let people know that when he gets down here.”
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