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Congress Stares Down Friday Deadline For Automatic Budget Cuts

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The D.C. region will feel the affects of potential sequester cuts more acutely than most areas of the country if Congress does not act.
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The D.C. region will feel the affects of potential sequester cuts more acutely than most areas of the country if Congress does not act.

Congress has a self-appointed deadline facing it this week: billions of dollars in budget cuts will rip across the federal budget Friday unless Congress acts by Friday.

The doomsday scenario that lawmakers from both parties are painting seems like it will hit this week. Sequestration will take $85 billion dollars from federal agencies on March 1, meaning cuts to housing, education, the Pentagon and its contractors spread across the region.

D.C. region faces big impact

A state by state report released by the White House spells out precisely how dire the effect could be on the area economy. As many as 149,000 civilian Department of Defense workers would be impacted in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. alone. These furloughs add up to $1.1 billion in lost wages. This is in addition to $300 million that would be slashed from the operating budgets Army, Navy and Air Force installations in Maryland and Virginia.

Area schools stand to lose $29 million used for a variety of programs, which could affect more than 400 teachers and teachers aides. Head Start service cuts would affect about 2,000 of the neediest children in Virginia, Md. and D.C.

Services affecting public health are also under the gun, as $400,000 in vaccination money disappears, leaving 6,000 kids without shots for measels and other diseases. In addition, as much as $6.5 million in public health money for HIV and substance abuse programs is wiped out, meaning 31,000 fewer tests for HIV.

In addition, about $500,000 in job search money goes away, impacting more than 33,000 people looking for work. In addition, an estimated 5,200 students getting work study help and jobs would lose that assistance.

The study doesn't measure how the ripple effect from these lost funds would affect the overall economy in the region, but elected officials from most of these jurisdictions say the impact would be dire.

Partisan differences remain ahead of deadline

In the meantime, Congress wasn't even in session last week. Maryland Democratic governor Martin O'Malley says it's unacceptable that lawmakers aren't seriously negotiating a way to avoid sequestration.

"I'd like to see them come back to the table and figure out an honorable compromise here," O'Malley says.

But a growing number of Republicans seem resigned to the cuts. Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) opposed the Budget Control Act that set up sequestration, but he says that to get the debt in order, it may be necessary to trigger those cuts.

"While I would rather see targeted cuts, if the best we can do is something like sequestration, maybe we have to do that and then re-assess where we're at," Griffith says.

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