By Jeff Wolfe

The Delaware County Daily Times

Nobody wants it to happen, yet there is still a possibility that it could. Just how to avoid it from happening is the big issue.

It’s called sequestration, a big word for $85 billion in sweeping budget cuts that could come from Washington as early as Friday if a compromise between Democrats and Republicans can’t be reached.united-states-military

“I want to always express optimism that we can get it done,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in a conference call Monday afternoon. “There’s plenty of time to get an agreement.”

Of course, there was plenty of time back in the fall or early winter of 2012. However, to avoid the fiscal cliff in January, the deadline was pushed back two months, to March 1.

But Casey says it’s on both Democrats and Republicans to not avoid the conflict this time.

“For some it’s lip service and for others, we work at it,” Casey said. “We can all do more. I would say if you’re a member of Congress pointing a finger at someone else, the first thing you should do is look at your hair first.

“There are some 24-hour partisan warriors and some that work at bipartisanship. I count myself in the latter category.”

Just how the cuts would affect Delaware County still aren’t clear. But Casey did cite a George Mason University report published last summer that said sequestration would cause more than 78,000 Pennsylvanians to lose their jobs. Of that number, 39,941 are in defense, including 26,000 civilians employed in defense contract jobs.

Casey said Monday that it is not known how many jobs at the Boeing Plant in Ridley Township would be affected. Boeing has about 6,200 employees in Ridley Township and easily has the biggest stake in defense contracts in the county. Boeing assembles the Chinook CH-47 helicopter and partially assembles the V-22 Osprey. The defense contracts for Boeing in Ridley Township in 2011 totaled more than $1.2 billion.

Several other smaller businesses also depend on at least some percentage of government contracts for their businesses. According to the Center for Security Policy, there were more than 150 county businesses that had defense contracts of some kind, including 20 of $1 million or more in 2011.

“There are a lot of jobs at stake that relate to the defense budget,” Casey said. “Just having the threat of that kind of job loss or substantial furloughing is not good.”

In all, the furloughing of civilian Department of Defense employees across the state would result in about $150.1 million in cuts.

According to the Center for Security Policy, county businesses had 1,396 defense contracts in 2011 for a total of almost $2.9 billion, easily the highest amount of defense contracts for any county in the state. Next was Allegheny County at $1.6 billion and then Montgomery County at $1.2 billion.

But the defense budget wouldn’t be the only place where the money would not be spent.

Another big hit would be to primary and secondary education in the state at the cost of $26.4 million. That would put about 360 teachers and teacher’s aide jobs at risk. Also, 29,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 90 fewer schools would receive funding.

Funding for medical research, at $73 million, and scientific research, at $13.9 million, could also take a hit.

“All of these research jobs have huge implications for helping find medical breakthroughs and cures,” Casey said. “It will also have impact with high paying jobs being lost or not realized.”

Other areas that would be affected include about $8.7 million in community development, block grants, $7 million from Army base operations and $866,000 from for job search assistance. Also, work-study jobs would be affected, meaning about 3,160 fewer low income students would receive financial aid and 2,290 fewer students would be able to get work-study jobs.

“We know without much dispute, that having sequestration go into effect is a bad idea,” Casey said. “I’m not sure anyone can make a credible argument that it would be a positive development. Leading economists of all stripes have said that.”

A solution proposed by Democrats is to have $55 billion in cuts evenly split between reductions in defense spending and ending farm subsidy direct payments. Then another $55 billion in revenues from adopting the “Buffet Rule” regarding taxation of millionaires, ending deductions for outsourcing, and closing an oil industry tax loophole.

The Republican plan is still being crafted, and there are reports that it may include a provision that allows agency leaders to decide on exactly where the sequestration cuts come from.

“This can be an annual debate if it doesn’t get solved,” Casey said. “But what I’m most concerned about is getting through the next seven months.”

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