Saturday March 16, 2013

NATICK, Mass.-- Automatic federal spending cuts could slow development of life-saving technology for American soldiers, Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned Friday after touring a U.S. Army research facility.

The Massachusetts Democrat blamed a "minority of the minority" -- meaning a small group of Senate Republicans -- for standing in the way of at least a temporary budget fix that would avert a government shutdown on March 27. She said that would allow Congress and President Barack Obama to continue negotiating toward a possible end to the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, known as the "sequester," that took effect at the start of the month.

During her tour of the Soldiers Systems Center in Natick, Warren was shown body armor that has been developed for female soldiers and a thermal test facility for flame-retardant military uniforms.

"This is a place that saves lives," Warren said following the visit.

"I can’t say this forcefully enough. The sequester is bad," she said. "It is bad for Massachusetts, it is bad for the country and as we know here in Natick it is bad for our military. It’s got to stop ... and it’s got to stop now."

Warren, who also visited with advocates for the disabled on Friday, said she was encouraged by Thursday’s meeting between Senate Republicans and the president, but concerned that Republicans remained unwilling to raise new revenue through the closing of tax loopholes.


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Republicans counter that Democrats have been unwilling to tackle deficit reduction by curtailing federal spending and addressing serious reforms in Medicaid and other government benefit programs.

John Harlow, a spokesman for the Soldier Systems Center, said the facility employs 1,644 people, about 1,500 of whom are civilians. While the base has yet to feel any direct cuts caused by the sequester, it has been unable to fill 55 open positions because of a hiring freeze that was put in place in anticipation of the sequester and potential civilian furloughs could result in nearly $10 million in lost wages.

Warren, a former Harvard Law professor, took office in January after defeating former Republican Sen. Scott Brown. Warren became the state’s senior senator a few weeks later when John Kerry resigned from the Senate to become Secretary of State.

Warren said she was watching the campaign to succeed Kerry with interest, but had no plan to take sides in the Democratic race between U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch. She said both were "excellent candidates."

The primary is scheduled for April 30 and the special election for June 25. Gov. Deval Patrick named a former aide, William "Mo" Cowan, to fill the seat on a temporary basis until the election.