Sequestration, budget cuts could impact Chicago area

March 1, 2013 3:25:10 PM PST
While big federal budget cuts won't have an immediate impact, there is fear and uncertainty about what's to come.

Seniors came prepared with questions and comments Friday for three Democrats from Congress, seated behind a table with stacks of petitions demanding that there be no cuts to Social Security. Sequester does not call for those cuts, but it could lead to other undesirables.

"Senior transportation could be cut, senior meals, legal services, family care givers," said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, (D) Chicago and northern suburbs.

Still, those are things that could be cut, but it would be weeks if not months before that happens if at all.

Sorting out what sequestration -- what gets cuts and when -- is at best muddy, while Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of fear-mongering.

"It's not as simple and dramatic," said U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, (D) Naperville. "I think some members on both sides have overplayed the initial impact of sequestration."

Foster calls it a change of slope, meaning that whatever damage comes may be months, years, even decades off.

For example: Possible budget cuts to the National Institute of Health.

"Cutting $1.6 billion in NIH funding will dramatically slow the finding of medical cures," said Sen. Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.

Research jobs and projects in Illinois could be mothballed, but again that would not happen immediately.

Air traffic controller furloughs could begin in a month's time, and at airports like O'Hare, that could ultimately mean six fewer controllers per day -- slower arrival rate and more delays.

"If we don't have staffing to run the current traffic, there's no way we can run the traffic of today with sequestration," said Dan Carrico, NATCA O'Hare.

"The President talks about a balanced approach," said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, (R) south and southwest suburbs. "He got his tax increase he wanted so badly at the end of the year. Now it's time to have balance and reduce the size of the federal government."

Republicans complain that the president is an unwilling partner in the budget cutting debate.

The automatic cuts, locally, would reduce federal aid to Illinois education by millions of dollars, decrease payments for everything from child vaccinations to the operation of regional airport control towers.

The towers at Waukegan, Aurora, and DuPage airports would lose their controllers, possibly as early as April 1.