Area leaders demand that President Obama, Congress act to avoid deep federal cuts

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Local,Maryland,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County,Prince Georges County

Area leaders begged President Obama and Congress on Tuesday to work together to stop massive federal spending cuts that would hit the D.C. region harder than nearly anywhere else in the country.

If the White House and Congress fail to strike a deficit-reduction deal before March 1, the federal government will begin to shrink by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, with nearly half those cuts coming from the Pentagon's budget. With a large federal workforce and defense-dependent economies, the District, Maryland and Virginia will bear the brunt of those cuts.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote Obama this week to express concern over the looming cuts, known inside the Beltway as "sequestration." On Tuesday, the Republican leader said he's all for scaling back government but "just don't make half of it defense."

"I don't think it's fair to levy that kind of reduction on our kids in uniform and frankly on the state of Virginia," McDonnell said on WTOP. "You need more cuts than $1.2 trillion. That's a drop in the bucket. Do more. But do it right."

A George Mason University study estimated Virginia would lose 208,000 jobs if the automatic budget cuts take effect, more than anywhere else except California, which topped the list at 225,000 jobs lost. The District was fourth at 127,000, followed by Maryland with 115,000.

The cuts were originally scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, but Congress pushed that deadline back after failing to strike a deficit-reduction deal in time to prevent the cuts. With lawmakers out of town this week, though, it is increasingly likely that Congress will miss the March 1 deadline.

"Do I sense urgency? No," said Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va. "We should be in session right now."

County executives from Prince George's and Montgomery counties insisted the cuts would hurt thousands in the area who depend on government jobs and contracts.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said the cuts could hit more than 47,000 federal workers in the county and undermine businesses that benefit from federal contracts. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker estimates about 27,000 county residents are federal workers and that the county faces as much as $120 million in lost tax revenue.

Uncertainty over the federal budget cuts is forcing county executives throughout the region to rethink budgets they were already preparing for next year. Leggett on Tuesday said Congress must not let the March 1 deadline slip by without a deal.

"I don't want to wait a month or two from now, after people are laid off, after businesses suffer," he said.

Last week, most of the Virginia congressional delegation, including four Republicans, wrote to House and Senate leaders pleading for a solution. A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Republican and Democratic governors will outline what they'd like to see from Congress when they meet this weekend.

Examiner reporter Andy Brownfield contributed to this report.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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