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White House estimate spells out tough road for Washington region economy

By Donna St. George,

In the Washington region, hub of the federal government, the upcoming automatic spending cuts the Obama administration detailed Sunday would strike a tough blow, with nearly 150,000 civilian Defense Department employees facing furloughs and an estimated average loss of $7,500 in pay.

Under sequestration, which is days away if a deal cannot be reached, funding for elementary and secondary education across the region would be slashed by $29 million, jeopardizing nearly 400 teacher and aide positions. Nearly 6,000 fewer children would be vaccinated for such diseases as measles, mumps and whooping cough. More than 31,000 fewer tests for HIV would be provided, and funds for local meals for seniors would be cut by nearly $2.3 million.

Scientific projects would be delayed at the National Institutes of Health, where research awards would be scaled back and several thousand people could lose their jobs. Across Maryland, Virginia and the District, job-search assistance would be cut, potentially leaving more than 33,000 people without such help.

The White House analysis came as part of a final campaign by the Obama administration to spotlight the fallout of the across-the-board spending cuts, set to start Friday. The administration hopes that a clear picture of the impact on popular programs — and on jobs in every state — will pressure congressional Republicans to forge a deal to stop the sequestration.

The cuts in federal spending would affect the Washington economy in multiple ways, including potential job growth, said economist Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore.

“If this is a big deal nationally, it’s a bigger deal in the Washington metropolitan area,” Basu said, noting that Virginia, Maryland and the District are “among the most reliant communities in the nation on federal spending.”

There was little sign Sunday that the standoff would end, and many Democrats and Republicans were looking toward late March, when another deadline comes.

The White House estimates came as political tension ratcheted up and local officials spoke out.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) pledged on national television to work together to persuade Congress to head off the worst of the sequester cuts that would affect the defense industry in their states.

“On both sides of the Potomac, we sit in the middle of a corridor of science and security, and this sequester stands to wipe out a lot of hard-fought job gains in Virginia and in Maryland,” O’Malley said during an appearance on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

He said the cuts would “hurt a lot of moms and dads in our region who go to work every day, working in places like NIH and NSA, and also the people that work in the private sectors that support our federal government in these important missions.”

“So both of us hope that Congress will come together and find a way to avoid the sequester,” he said.

McDonnell, who appeared on the program with O’Malley and two other governors, said the sequester “was put in place to be a hammer, not a policy.”

“Our major concern, that Gov. O’Malley and I have, because we’re such defense states . . . is you have to cut, because we’re in bad shape,” McDonnell said. “Find another way to do it, and get it done now.”

Locally, the White House projected major cuts in military spending, with an estimated $95 million in Army base operation funding in Maryland and another $19 million in Air Force and Navy reductions. In Virginia, Army base funding cuts were put at $146 million, and Navy cuts included the cancellation of maintenance on 11 ships in Norfolk.

Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, said the threat of sequestration already has had an effect on government contracting, a major industry in the Washington region.

“Contracts run this place economically,” Davis said, noting that Washington area businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach. “There’s no question we take a hit in this area. . . . If nothing else, the uncertainty stops expansion.”

The array of cuts outlined would include more than $7 million in reductions in clean air and water programs in the region and $673,000 in cuts for law enforcement grants that help with crime prevention and prosecution.

The region would lose a combined $4 million in funds for substance abuse, meaning 4,700 fewer admissions to substance abuse programs.

The White House projections spotlighted cuts at every stage of education, an area the president vowed to make a priority for his second term.

Head Start, a program aimed at preparing low-income children before they reach kindergarten, would be forced to serve 2,000 fewer children in Maryland, Virginia and the District, the projections said. And 800 disadvantaged children across the region would lose access to child care, the administration estimated.

Nearly $25 million in cuts would affect teachers, aides and staff who work with children with disabilities; at the college level, nearly 3,400 fewer low-
income students would receive aid and 1,790 fewer students would get work-study jobs, the White House said.

John Wagner contributed to this report.

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