Neither U.S. senator from Pennsylvania could offer insight about how automatic federal spending cuts might affect York County, but both Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey on Wednesday announced they are supporting legislation to prevent the country from feeling the full blow of the impending sequester.
Casey, D-Pa., and Toomey, R-Pa., agree neither political party is in favor of the sequester's across-the-board spending cuts. But the lawmakers have different opinions about the best alternative.
Toomey is introducing a bill that grants President Barack Obama discretion over where to cut spending, while preventing him from adding deeper cuts to the already-slashed Department of Defense budget.
"Not all government spending is created equal. In many cases there is redundancy," Toomey said.
He cited 94 green energy programs, 47 job creation programs and 15 financial literacy programs as examples of redundant federal programs. By consolidating or eliminating some of those programs, the government could reduce spending, Toomey said.
"We're not talking about laying off air traffic controllers. We want to do these cuts in the least disruptive way possible," he said.
Toomey's proposal is one of many shared by Senate Republicans in the last week, but he thinks his has a good chance. Claiming his plan has bipartisan support, he said his bill deserves to be brought to the floor.
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, said Monday he would support such a plan if it makes it to the House.
But House and Senate Democrats are calling for what they describe as a more "balanced approach."
Casey favors a plan that balances spending cuts with increased revenue. The plan is basically a shorthand of the Buffet Rule, which closes tax loopholes, he said.
"It will derive (tax revenue) from very wealthy Americans in a very fair way," Casey said. "It doesn't make sense for anyone if we say middle class families should carry the freight."
If the sequester kicks in on Friday, it could eventually lead to the loss of more than 78,000 jobs across Pennsylvania.
In a state that still has more than 500,000 people out of work, "it will create more uncertainty and more anxiety at a time we already have too much of both," Casey said.
But Toomey downplayed the immediate effects of the sequester.
The sequester would create a 1 percent cut during the first fiscal year it takes effect, he said. "That's totally manageable," Toomey said.
Even with the sequester, the federal government will still spend more this year than it did last year, he said.
But even one job loss would be too many, Casey said.
"Even if someone doesn't lose their job right away, just a furlough could create anxiety the economy doesn't need right now," he said.
Neither Casey nor Toomey could answer what the sequester would mean in York County and when the effect might become visible.
"It's hard to be certain about a moment in time," Casey said.
It will probably manifest in different ways, depending on where a person lives and which services they need, he said.
"In some ways, we're already seeing (the impact). It's going to cause a slowdown in the economy," Casey said.
One of the advantages in York County is its robust manufacturing industry, he said.
"There's a great mix of manufacturing jobs. That's an advantage I hope will not be eroded by this kind of impediment," Casey said.
Local business leaders have been "relatively quiet" on the issue, according to Bob Jensenius, vice president of the York County Economic Alliance.
"My sense is there's so much information out there, and none of it seems to reconcile. We can't get a clear picture of what's going to happen in York County," he said.
The alliance is concerned about the impact on local defense contractors and subcontractors, and borrowers seeking small business loans, he said.
Because there's not a clear picture of what will happen in York County, it adds to the uncertainty here, Jensenius said.
But it doesn't necessarily come as a surprise.
"People have grown accustomed to Washington being so dysfunctional," he said.
The president is expected to meet with House and Senate leadership on Friday, and Casey said that indicates a chance for resolution will probably be pushed past the sequester deadline. If the deadline is passed, the cuts will start to be implemented.
"It's all the more reason the March 27 budget resolution deadline will become more significant," Casey said. "It's now a reason for both sides to sit down and solve two problems at one time."
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