In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, public and private leaders met the latest round of budget brinkmanship with a mix of genuine worry and anxious waiting. Many said there was not enough information to gauge the potential fallout.
"This is all uncharted territory for everyone," said Andrew Lee, a spokesman for Boeing, one of many defense contractors waiting to see whether their work will be curtailed. At its Ridley Park plant, 6,200 employees manufacture two military helicopters -- the Chinook A-47 and most of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. It's not clear whether that work will be affected.
At Philadelphia International Airport, "we don't know what the local impacts are going to be to service, if any," said spokeswoman Victoria Lupica, though the Obama administration has predicted the sequester will trigger longer waits at airports due to cuts in security personnel and furloughs of air traffic controllers.
The Philadelphia School District could lose $16 million to $17 million in federal grants, said Matthew Stanski, chief financial officer. That's significant in a district that recently had to borrow $300 million just to pay its bills for the rest of the year. "These federal grants target our neediest students."
He has asked district officials to begin drafting plans for what they would reduce if the cuts come to pass, he said. The district has a waiting list for Head Start, but the cuts would mean 250 fewer slots for children, he said.
In Washington, Democrats stressed that regardless of how the cuts hit, resources would be lost for a wide range of worthwhile programs.
"They're not strategic, they're not smart, they're not focused on priorities," said Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.).
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said he is hoping to add some flexibility to the reductions. "Across government, most programs can afford to be cut some. But we ought to be more thoughtful and precise about those cuts."
The head of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Adjutant Gen. Wesley Craig, said he was working to find ways to avert furloughs of 1,700 technicians though methods such as deferred maintenance on helicopters.
"Never done anything like this before, so I don't have any real true data, but you can guarantee that it would start to degrade that fleet," Craig said.
About 5,000 Defense Department workers in Philadelphia could be affected by sequestration, with some facing furloughs of up 22 days, estimated John F. Garrity, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 3, the union that covers technical civilian employees for the Navy.
"It doesn't look good," Garrity said.
The Democratic warnings and GOP pushback comes after weeks of the two sides blaming one another for the looming cuts -- which Obama and both parties agreed to in a 2011 deal to raise the debt limit.
Obama has called for replacing cuts with "balanced" deficit reduction that includes new tax revenue, raised by closing loopholes, and more measured spending cuts. Republicans want to replace defense cuts with more reductions to domestic programs.
The issue does not seem to have gained traction with the public, which has seen Obama and House Republicans push one another to the edge of fiscal calamity many times over the past three years, only to avert the problem at the last moment.
The cuts were never expected to happen. Instead the threatened reductions were supposed to be a penalty so odious that the two parties would be forced to come together for a long-term deficit reduction plan. They didn't.
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