Defense civilians tell Lamborn they want end to budget standoffs

Published: August 29, 2013, 7:30 pm

by Tom Roeder tom.roeder@gazette.com -

Colorado Springs Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn told more than three dozen federal employees Thursday that he can balance the budget and put more cash in their pockets.

Lamborn, in town on a Congressional break, has pushed a plan to end furloughs of federal workers and balance the budget by cutting social programs. His biggest target is the federal government’s health care plan that’s been dubbed “Obamacare” by opponents.

But the Republican’s plans didn’t give much comfort to Defense Department civilians who have taken six days off without pay this summer.

“When you say no furloughs, that means firing people to get the budget under control,” said Fort Carson union worker Doug Rule.

In Colorado, the Pentagon has 12,000 civilian workers, with most of them in Colorado Springs. Those jobs are at risk as the Defense Department works to cut as much as $1 trillion from its budget over a decade.

Albert Rivera, vice president of the local branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the uncertainty is taking its toll.

“We’re hoping Congress is going to come up to their senses and realize this standoff is going to have an impact in the Defense Department that will take decades to fix,” Rivera said after the Lamborn meeting in an auditorium at Pikes Peak Community College.

Congress has yet to reach accord on a 2014 defense budget, making an agreement unlikely before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. That also means sequestration cuts, $53 billion in 2014 for the Pentagon, are likely to remain in place.

Workers cited stress in the workplace, lack of raises and a reduction in military readiness as the impacts of cuts and remained suspicious that Lamborn’s proposals would result in a solution.

“Why can’t our Congress come to a consensus or a compromise to establish a budget?” one worker asked.

Lamborn lambasted Senate Democrats, saying the Senate would target defense cuts while overspending in other areas. He touted a House plan that would boost defense spending, but cut social programs.

“I think the House has made some tough choices, but the Senate has not,” Lamborn said.

Lamborn, though, clarified that while he signed off on a letter pledging to defund Obamacare, he doesn’t support the government shutdown that could accompany a standoff on the issue.

He also briefly opened the door to budget compromise, “at the end of the day.”

Facing opposition in 2014 from Democrat Irv Halter, a retired Air Force major general, Lamborn has been touring the district touting local issues.

On Wednesday, Lamborn hosted a meeting between doctors and military officials on tangles with Tricare, the military’s equivalent of civilian health insurance.

Doctors have been howling about claim denials and slow payments since earlier this year when insurance giant United Healthcare assumed a contract for managing Tricare.

Lamborn attributed most of the trouble to computer problems and expressed hope they could be fixed within the next month.

“There are drastic options available if United Health Care continues to drop the ball,” he warned.

Lamborn also highlighted two projects aimed at veterans. He said a new Veterans Administration Clinic under construction on Centennial Boulevard will be open for business next spring.

And, a final decision on the location of a federal veteran’s cemetery in El Paso County is expected in September, ending a quest of more than a decade by local veterans groups who have pushed for the project, he said.

A member of the House Armed Services Committee, Lamborn voiced cautious support for U.S. intervention in Syria.

He said that the use of chemical weapons harms U.S. interests, but said the administration should hold off on intervention until President Barack Obama consults with Congress and outlines a clear plan that includes outcomes.

“Another problem with Syria is there is no obvious good guy,” Lamborn said.