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Unusual Allies Fight Sequester Cuts

Defense industry insiders joined with advocates for public health, research universities and other sectors that rely on federal funds Monday to issue a combined call to stop the upcoming sequester cuts.

The rare display of unity among groups that are often pitted against one another underscored shared concern over the across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to hit nondiscretionary spending March 1.

“We’re going to rise and fall together in this debate,” Emily Holubowich, the executive director of the Coalition for Health Funding and co-chairwoman of NDD United, said at a morning news conference at the National Press Club. “Working separately wasn’t working, clearly.”

The officials said the federal budget crisis requires Congress and the Obama administration to arrive at a bipartisan grand bargain that should include new tax revenues, an overhaul of entitlement programs and cuts to the nondiscretionary side of the ledger.

Holubowich called it an “unprecedented effort” to stop the sequester and noted that it marked “the first time under one big tent” for the organizations.

“These cuts have consequences and every American will pay the price,” she said, adding that the sequester would bring cuts to not only defense but also the medical research community, food inspections, national parks and public safety, among other areas.

The groups also announced that it was sending letters to President Barack Obama and members of Congress on Monday in an attempt to convince both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue to find an alternative to the sequester. NDD United’s one page of text has 71 additional pages of 3,200 signatures representing organizations around the country from the Adult Congenital Heart Association to the Wyoming School Counselor Association.

Hunter Rawlings, a professor of Greek and Latin who is president of the Association of American Universities, said he never expected to be sitting next to the CEO of a major defense contractor. But he and Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Wes Bush share a common reliance on federally funded research.

Holding up an iPhone, Rawlings said many components of such devices benefited from federal research.

“The sequester is the most unpopular thing in Washington, D.C., since the Dallas Cowboys,” Rawlings quipped. “The president hates it. Speaker Boehner hates it. … Yet somehow our leaders can’t seem to figure a way out of it.”

Marion C. Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, which has taken the lead against the cuts, called it a “poison pill” that was designed to force Congress and the administration to make more strategic budget cuts. But now that pill, she said, threatens to have a toxic effect on the U.S. economy. Her group set to re-issue a study showing that the sequester would put at risk 2.2 million U.S. jobs, including defense and nondefense sectors.

“Our voice alone won’t end this debate … but as evidenced by this unprecedented gathering of disparate groups … I’m confident that together we can win this battle,” she said.

And Northrop Grumman’s Bush made a pitch that federal dollars to education, public safety and other areas are necessary for innovation to fuel long-term U.S. economic growth.

“These are all critical functions of government,” he said.

He noted that the nondiscretionary part of the federal budget has already incurred steep cuts and is at levels not seen in 50 years — without the sequester.

“Now that level of decline cannot be sustained if America is to be a global leader for the long term,” he said.

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and a former Treasury Department official, agreed. He called the sequester “a reckless and blunt tool” that would harm the nation, quelling innovation and ultimately costing tax revenue by dampening growth.

As for new revenues as part of a grand budget deal, Bush said that “everything has to be on the table.” Blakey noted that both sides of the political aisle face tough choices ahead, as savings from popular entitlement programs — such as Social Security and Medicare — should be under serious consideration.

The groups also emphasized that even though the sequester hasn’t actually gone into place, the threat is already being manifested in consumer confidence and business investment.

“Our companies are laying off now,” Blakey said, citing previous budget cuts to her industry as well.

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