Local Leaders Converge On Nation’s Capital As Sequestration Looms

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WASHINGTON (WHNT) - A number of local leaders from north Alabama converged on the nation's capital Thursday in an attempt to soften the potential blow from massive defense cuts.

Madison County Chairman Dale Strong, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Decatur Mayor Don Kyle all made the rounds in Washington with the looming sequestration deadline just over a week out. The united front from local leaders came on the same day as a new U.S. Army report which stated that Alabama would be the third-hardest hit state in the nation if sequestration goes through. Thousands of workers at Redstone Arsenal and nearby defense contractors are among those at risk, with many slated for mandatory furloughs starting in April.

The three leaders joined forces by visiting seven different congressional offices on Thursday, hoping to convey the vital role north Alabama plays in national defense. The last-minute lobby shows the increased sense of urgency surrounding sequestration, which could be especially painful for north Alabama. Chairman Strong said the situation is as serious as it gets.

"This is a pretty hard hit, and we've got to be prepared for it," said Strong. "The big thing that we're doing is we're selling north Alabama, that we're the brainpower here. We've got a lot of assets that protect the Western Hemisphere...Huntsville is well recognized, Madison County is well recognized, our thing is just getting to all these other folks.

Chairman Strong said all of the congressional members were receptive to the north Alabama delegation, but signs of a sequestration breakthrough at the highest levels remain bleak. The army report said Alabama is poised to see more than $130 million in lost pay, effecting just over 25,000 workers. Total economic loss from the cuts is estimated at almost $2 billion statewide, but the study only covers areas related to the Defense Department. It did not forecast potential spillover losses that sequestration could carry into other areas of the economy.

"No matter where you go in Washington, the lack of communication is obvious," said Strong. "You cannot solve issues of this magnitude without communication. Whether you're a Democrat or Republican, we've got to get communication to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Speaker of the House, and the leadership of the Senate."

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle released a statement on his Washington trip Thursday night.

"The overall sentiment in the Congressional offices we visited today is that our country will go into sequestration on March 1," the statement read. "Some of the offices believe it will take about 30 days for the real impact to hit. A few offices were hopeful that Congress would turn the situation around by the time the continuing resolution ran out on March 27. The hopeful ones were those representatives with a heavy military presence in their
congressional districts. Those without military bases gave the impression they are “okay” with sequestration staying in place."

Read Mayor Battle's full statement.

The $500 billion defense cut was part of the 2011 debt-ceiling compromise bill orchestrated by Congress and President Obama.