BATH, Maine (AP) — In their first public event together in Maine, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King pledged their full support Thursday for shipyard workers in the state as they urged Congress to stop a ‘‘blame game’’ and pass a defense budget.
Collins, a Republican, and King, an independent, made the comments after touring Navy contractor Bath Iron Works, viewing ships under construction and meeting with shipyard workers. The senators were also visiting the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard submarine repair facility in Kittery later in the day.
In Bath, the two said the threat of automatic government spending cuts that could start March 1 is already affecting the economy. The cuts and lack of a yearlong defense budget would have ‘‘severe ramifications for our nation’s shipbuilding base, including Bath Iron Works in Maine,’’ they said in a letter to President Barack Obama that they released Thursday.
Even now, Collins said, the Navy is not building the number of ships it needs to meet its military requirements.
‘‘Part of the problem in Washington has been the blame game,’’ Collins, a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said after the BIW tour. ‘‘I think we need to get beyond that. ... What’s happening is just a disgrace.’’
King, who sought and won appointment to the Armed Services Committee after his 2012 election, said the most significant threat to national security ‘‘is the budget chaos in Washington. ... I think that’s shameful.’’ He and Collins pledged to stand by the 5,200 employees at BIW, where five Navy ships are under construction.
‘‘You’re looking at Team Maine,’’ King said.
BIW President Jeff Geiger said he’s ‘‘very concerned about the current situation,’’ but added that the shipyard is a little more secure than other defense companies because of the long-term nature of its contracts. But if cuts do take place, he said, the shipyard could see several hundred workers lose their jobs over the next six to nine months.
King said the March 1 date for across-the-board cuts, or sequestration, ‘‘is a meaningless date. ... It’s a date that we have sort of imposed on ourselves, and we ought to be able to figure this thing out. I am hopeful that instead of just a patchwork to get us through March 1, that we can do a more comprehensive solution. I think it’s doable. I think the numbers are there; I think most people have some good ideas about how to do it.’’
‘‘If this place goes down or loses a lot of the skilled people we just saw ... it’s not like you can flip a switch in two or three years and they all reappear,’’ King said.
Dan Loudermilk, president of the Local S7 shipbuilders’ union at BIW, said he agreed with much of what the senators said.
‘‘I think it’s an embarrassment the U.S. government can’t come to a resolution to fix this,’’ said Loudermilk, who listened to Collins and King with several other union leaders. ‘‘You’re talking about my livelihood and (that of) 5,000 other people at BIW.’’