Virginia GOP split over how to handle federal budget cuts

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Congressional Republicans representing areas with a strong military presence are pressuring their colleagues to approve a deal that would avoid $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, half of it from the Pentagon.

Some conservatives in Congress are welcoming the cuts, scheduled to take affect March 1, and congressional leaders admit they might not strike a deal until after the deadline. But that has irked Republicans in areas like Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, where the defense industry and federal workforce fuel local economies.

"We're doing all we can to educate the other members that may not be totally aware of the impact," said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., whose district stretches from the Washington suburbs to Hampton Roads. "I wouldn't say it's a rift [in the party]. There's certainly a good conversation."

Virginia's congressional delegation sent President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a letter Friday pleading for action. While all of the state's Democrats signed it, only four of the state's eight Republican congressmen -- Reps. Wittman, Randy Forbes, Scott Rigell and Frank Wolf -- joined them. Republicans representing Southside and Southwest Virginia, which have far fewer federal workers, avoided it.

Rigell said he's fighting headwinds from many Republicans in Congress who feel the defense budget should be slashed.

"Even if you hold the view defense spending should come down, this is not the way to do it," Rigell said. "The lack of flexibility within the budget, the uniformity of it, all things being reduced equally, it doesn't allow for the proper [reductions in government operations]. I'm open to finding savings with the Department of Defense as part of a comprehensive agreement. This truly isn't the right way to go about this."

- Steve Contorno

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