Sen. Ben Cardin, (D-MD) , in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 14, 2012. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For Capital Business)

Small business leaders want U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to carry back a message to Washington: It may cause pain, but don’t kick the sequester can down the road.

Despite the potential harm to their businesses, several small business leaders said Monday that the lack of certainty is worse. They were invited by Cardin to air their views at a meeting in Prince George’s County where he outlined the impending sequester that could trigger deep, across-the-board spending cuts.

“If I don’t meet a deadline, I am either in breach of contract or disqualified from a procurement,” said Susan Ballard Hirsch, founder and chief executive of Government Services IPT in Largo.

“Stop pushing the can down the road. We can’t do that in our business, we need to meet deadlines,” she said. “I suggest you do the same.”

That sentiment was repeated several times during the 90-minute session that Cardin had convened to update local businesses about the sequester, which could take effect Friday if no compromise is reached.

“We have to make a decision and get it done,” Cardin said.

The ripple effect across the Washington area will be substantial because of the heavy regional reliance on the federal government for employment and contract work. In Prince George’s, there are at least 80,000 federal employees who could be affected, and thousands of others who work for government contractors.

Cardin said he and other Democrats are willing to make difficult decisions, and swallow some unpalatable cuts to try to reach a compromise with congressional Republicans and end the uncertainty about continued budget disputes.

But he told the business people that they needed to make their voices heard so that congressional leaders understand just how damaging the lack of certainty is to their businesses.

Several of the employers said they had held off expanding because they cannot foresee the shape of the federal budget.

Cardin noted many major reductions in the growth of federal spending but said that some House Republicans would not find room for compromise.

“They have won the debate already. We have dramatically reduced the scope of government,” he said. “They will never be satisfied.”