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Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., talks to news media Monday at defense contractor ITT Exelis, the first stop on his statewide “Serving Those Who Serve” tour.

Donnelly warns of detrimental military cuts

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., warned Monday that congressional budget cuts could shortchange the U.S. military and its suppliers – as well as America’s security.

“We don’t want to go to the point where it endangers the companies that have enabled us to protect our nation and to keep our nation going forward,” Donnelly, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told news media after a tour of ITT Exelis in Fort Wayne.

The freshman senator from Granger said ongoing budget reductions known as sequestration should be “in spending across much of the federal spectrum” and “just not focused on defense and on (social) service programs. … It’s something we have to fix and we have to do in a better way.”

Sequestration has trimmed $37 billion from Pentagon spending in fiscal 2013 and will chop $52 billion more in fiscal 2014 under the Budget Control Act. Without congressional action, the law would slash $1.2 trillion in federal spending over 10 years, nearly half of it from the Department of Defense.

His Monday morning visit was Donnelly’s first to ITT Exelis, which manufactures military communications equipment and weather satellite parts at plants along Cook Road west of Lima Road. The stop kicked off a three-day “Serving Those Who Serve” tour of Indiana businesses, a Purdue University rocket laboratory and the Air National Guard base in Terre Haute.

Donnelly said U.S troops “have come home safe because of the products that have been built” by ITT Exelis.

Federal spending reductions are delaying the awarding of Department of Defense contracts but have not caused layoffs at the local operation, which employs 1,165 people, according to ITT Exelis officials.

“Some of our products are really determined on how big that (military) force structure is going to be and how quickly they are going to field those products,” Jennifer Schoonover, vice president and general manager of communications solutions, said in an interview.

Company spokesman Tim White said sequestration is so far affecting ITT Exelis “in terms of being able to plan for the future.”

White and Schoonover said Monday’s visit by Donnelly was so the senator could familiarize himself with the plants.

Congress has until Sept. 30 to approve either a fiscal 2014 budget or yet another continuing resolution to extend current appropriations. House Republicans and Senate Democrats remain far apart.

Many Republicans, including Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, have demanded that any spending plan strip all money from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“I see no chance the Senate will pass it,” Donnelly said about the health care defunding proposal. “I see no chance the president would ever agree to it. And so I don’t quite know where this ship is going.”

He said Congress should tweak the Affordable Care Act to “make it the most effective, lowest cost, best care that we can possibly do.”

Donnelly favors eliminating the 2.3 percent medical device tax and has introduced legislation requiring the Affordable Care Act to define a full-time employee eligible for employer-provided insurance as one who works at least 40 hours a week.

The law puts the figure at 30 hours, although the Obama administration had delayed the large-employer insurance mandate by a year until 2014.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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