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Democratic committee blasts Cramer over furloughs

BISMARCK -- More than 600 full-time military technicians in the North Dakota National Guard will lose a total $1.2 million in pay over the next 11 weeks as they are required to take off one day a week due to national spending cuts.

The furloughs, which went into effect Monday, are part of the federal budget sequestration, a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies, totaling $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years triggered earlier this year by the inability of Congress to compromise on a federal budget.

On Wednesday, New York Congressman Steve Israel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and former member of the House Armed Services Committee, blasted a handful of House Republicans, including North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer, for their "pursuit of extremism" that led to "week one of the most catastrophic and dysfunctional chaos from Republicans," he said.

"It's truly tragic, other than the economic loss, (the furloughs) are entirely preventable," Israel said in a conference call with reporters. "They could be stopped today if there were any sense of compromise and willingness to a solution by the Republican majority."

Israel highlighted Cramer's quote about the sequester during a May trip to North Dakota, when Cramer said the sequester "restored some faith in the investment community."

Israel said it may restore some investment faith, "But if you just got a furlough notice, you don't have much faith in Cramer."

Cramer defended his position toward the sequester and furloughs, contending he has helped redirect the cuts into priorities that are consistent with North Dakota.

"The Obama administration has not controlled spending, which is causing this problem," Cramer said in an interview Wednesday. "The administration has decided to spread the cuts out, then prioritize at the bottom of the list."

He said nobody is talking about the $19 trillion debt the country faces, "but we have to start dealing with things (Democratic) leaders don't want to deal with, which is entitlement spending."

Cramer pointed out that under the Department of Defense Authorization Act, the military was given more flexibility to possibly avoid furloughs altogether, but the Defense Department opted to make across-the-board cuts, resulting in the 11 furlough days.

Cramer also highlighted his efforts to try to mitigate cuts to the Defense Department by helping stop another round of hearings to close military bases, fund new tankers to be housed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, fund a long-range strike bomber and co-sponsor an amendment that required the Defense Department to maintain 450 ballistic missiles, preserving all the missiles at the Minot Air Force Base.

North Dakota Adjutant General David Sprynczynatyk said he has spoken with Cramer and North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven about the effects the sequestration will have on the state's National Guard.

"They have assured me they will do what they can," he said. "I trust they are doing what they can within their realm to try to alleviate it."

Sprynczynatyk is largely concerned about the Guard's morale and readiness.

"For them personally, it's a hardship because of the 20 percent reduction in pay. For the organization, suddenly people are gone one day a week and the work doesn't go away," he said. "So it causes a morale problem from a family and fiscal perspective as well as the workload perspective."

Late last week, a 40-member Bismarck-based Aviation Regiment was put on alert for possible deployment. If mobilized, the company would serve in support of the NATO-led international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo for up to one year.

Sprynczynatyk called the timing of the alert ironic.

"We in North Dakota pride ourselves in our strong work ethic, and that's true in our technicians workforce. They know our soldiers need to be ready to deploy on missions around the world," he said. "The last thing we can afford is to send someone off to war not fully prepared with equipment that's not fully maintained."

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.