One of the most powerful members of Congress told frustrated shipyard workers and other federal employees in Kitsap County to blame Congress, and Congress alone, for the negative impacts of sequestration.
“You guys ought to be mad at Congress,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told the workers Tuesday afternoon in Bremerton. “You ought to raise hell and you ought to be out in the streets.”
Hoyer joined freshman Congressman Derek Kilmer in Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent’s conference room Tuesday to meet with a couple dozen workers from the shipyard, Bangor, Keyport and elsewhere.
“I tell people sequester starts with ‘s’ which stands for stupid,” Hoyer said. “It is an irrational policy.”
Hoyer also told the workers that the Republican Party, and its members of Congress, many of whom were elected in 2010, are to blame.
“If the Democrats were in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives, sequester would not be the policy of this country,” he said. “It is a stupid, irrational, harmful policy for our country and the people who work in this country. It is irresponsible action considered, planned and implemented by the Congress of the United States.”
Hoyer noted that during the health care debates thousands of Tea Party members descended on Washington, D.C., and federal workers need to mobilize in a similar fashion to fight sequestration.
“There were thousands of people on the capital grounds that were angry at us, yelling at us, pointing fingers at us and saying, ‘We’re gonna get you.’ “
Hoyer had a largely sympathetic audience Tuesday, but he did face some push back.
Bob Steinmetz, president of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 12, told Hoyer that trying to run the shipyard in the midst of a hiring freeze isn’t possible.
“You’re killing us internally when you do that,” he said. “We can’t sustain a business like that for very long. It just rips the guts out of us.”
Steinmetz said that the hiring freeze and furloughs make it difficult to both keep senior workers and hire younger ones.
“Those are our realities here and you guys need to do something about that,” he said. “And you can do something about that. There’s nothing preventing you from telling us right now that we can hire to the levels, 11,000 people, that we agreed to.”
Hoyer responded that he, Kilmer, Washington’s two senators and most of the state’s congressional delegation are opposed to sequestration.
“When you say, ‘you,’ I know you’re not speaking to Derek and I,” Hoyer said. “But we’re members of the corporation’s board of directors and the board of directors are screwing up so we get part of the blame. I understand that and I don’t blame you. But I want to see that anger, and concern, not just negative force, but a positive force saying we can’t operate that way.”
Hoyer said the only way to fix Congress is to elect “people that agree compromise is a worthy objective” in about 100 keys seats that contested. He also emphasized the role that media plays in polarizing the country.
“America has segregated itself by ideological bent,” Hoyer said. “The old style was to inform the American public, the new style is to incite and inflame the American public to dislike, disagree with and have great enmity toward the other side.”