With a looming $500 billion in defense cuts that could cost Northern Virginia thousands of jobs, Democrats and Republicans joined together at a rally in Arlington on Monday to encourage the Congress to come to an agreement that would prevent sequestration.
Sequestration is the name given to $1 trillion federal budget cuts that will happen in January if Congress does not reach a compromise. Half of that would affect the defense industry, which some estimates say could cost Virginia more than 207,000 jobs.
About 250 people, many employed by defense contractors with major presences in Northern Virginia, attended the Stop Sequestration rally Monday at the Crystal Gateway Marriott.
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District) called on Congress on Monday to cancel its upcoming five-week recess to work on a solution that would prevent the scheduled defense cuts.
That sentiment was echoed by Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce President Jim Corcoran, who said the federal government should not balance its budget on the backs of the defense industry.
Speakers at the rally used words like "devastating," "extremely destructive" and "insanity" to describe the looming cuts, which were put in place by the Super Committee formed with the task of developing a congressional budget compromise, which has not yet been reached.
"It was never meant to be a policy. It was a Sword of Damocles to hang over everyone's head. It was never expected to happen," Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said.
"We need to stop it now. Not after the election. Not hoping something happens during a lame-duck session. Men and women in both parties need to come together. We need to create certainty and security."
Several speakers took the time to point out the other half of sequestration, $500 billion in cuts that could affect everything from air traffic controllers to Head Start.
John Jumper, a former Air Force chief of staff and current chief executive of McLean-based Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC, said affected contractors hire a substantial number of veterans each year. Many of the companies that would be hurt by the cuts research everything from a cure for cancer to new technology to locate improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th District) told the crowd he expected the defense cuts would not happen. He said the problem was Democrats who refused to budge on entitlement reforms and Republicans who refused to allow the government to raise new revenue. He praised Wolf, McDonnell and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham for their bipartisan efforts.
"People should expect more from their Congress, that the art of politics should always be the art of compromise," Moran said.
But, he said, people who care about this issue need to stay involved long after it is settled. The country needs a healthier, more educated electorate if it is going to prosper, he said.
"You're all smarter than the average American. Trust me. In too many parts of the country, people are being dumbed down and fattened up," Moran said.
Tell us: Should Congress forgo its five-week recess to prevent sequestration?