Officials Sound Alarm Over U.S. Budget Cuts

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    NEWSLETTERS

    San Diego's economy is now on the verge of what officials say could be a real downturn, if Congress doesn't quickly head off a round of automatic cuts to the federal budget.

    Those across-the-board cuts, under the legislative euphemism of "sequestration", are scheduled to take effect March 1.

    One in four jobs throughout the region, the world's largest military-industrial complex, is tied to federal spending.

    A ten percent hit could have a harsh ripple effect on jobs and commerce.

    In case all this is lost on the respective parties' leaders on Capitol Hill, one of two freshmen in San Diego's five-member Congressional delegation is speaking out publicly to get their attention, in hopes they’ll reach a last-ditch compromise.

    "We can solve these budget problems over time,” Rep. Scott Peters  (D-52nd District), said during a Monday news conference at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.  “But the whole notion that you have to solve them with this meat axe today is really misguided -- and really threatens the recovery that we've spent so much time achieving, as slow as it's been."

    Peters expressed frustration that Congress is not in session this week, leaving only for days next week to pull avert the cuts: "The (members of Congress) who were elected for the first time in November -- and there's 85 of us -- all heard the same message -- which was 'Stop fighting and start fixing."

    As photojournalists trained their lenses on flurries of activity at the marine terminal, reporters were told that the Port of San Diego is one of only 17 commercial harbors that the Defense Department has declared "strategic" to national security.
      
    Tens of millions of federal dollars have been poured into the maritime complex since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

    If those and other maritime funds are decimated, officials warned, it could have an economic ripple effect on cargo operations, shipbuilding, and investments in infrastructure.

    Hundreds of layoffs at NASSCO already are in the works, in expectation of fewer contracts.

    "I know that there are certain Congressmen -- as Peters is -- who are concerned about trying to be actively involved to make something happen,” said Ann Moore, who chairs the San Diego Port Commission. 

    However, Moore added, “I haven't seen that across the board from other the other Congressmen involved."
               
    As the countdown to automatic cuts closes in on March 1st, there are growing doubts that 11th-hour wheeling and dealing can save the day.

    Said Port Commissioner Bob Nelson: "There's enough time left to come to an interim deal that could prevent the sequestration cuts.  And then, over a period of time, they could work out financial details.  But it's getting close."

    That, Peters explained,  is why they're taking this public -- to generate an outcry that'll serve as a wakeup call on Capitol Hill.

    In industries countywide that depend on Uncle Sam's spending, according to the congressman, some 30,000 local jobs became "at risk" last fall.

    “Those people had to go through all their holidays -- Thanksgiving and Christmas -- not really knowing how to plan,” Peters said. “They're not spending money; they're not contributing to the economic recovery.  If fact, they're facing the risk that if we don't do our job and make some sort of rational approach, they're going to lose their jobs."

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