By Scott Dance and Blair Ames, Baltimore Sun Media Group
6:06 PM EDT, April 12, 2013
Sen. Ben Cardin lamented snowballing damage from federal budget cuts in town hall meetings with federal workers and small-business leaders Friday, pledging to work toward an alternative budget solution by October.
But he acknowledged that achieving a compromise between similar budget proposals from the Senate and President Barack Obama and another from the House of Representatives could be a challenge. He spoke to two dozen Howard County business owners and more than 50 employees at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
"I wouldn't trade our system with any other system in the world, but it doesn't look good now," Cardin told the NASA employees.
The meetings were dedicated to sequestration, the automatic federal budget cuts that took effect March 1 to slash spending by as much as 10 percent. Unless Congress acts, sequestration requires $42.7 billion in cuts to defense programs and another $42.7 billion in cuts to nondefense programs over the next year.
At NASA, Cardin drew applause for emphasizing a need to stand behind federal workers, many of whom are facing furloughs.
"I understand Congress has a strange way of thanking you," Cardin told NASA workers. "You have been asked to sacrifice time and time again," he said, citing three years of salary freezes. "Enough's enough."
Workers shared concerns about politicians' inability to compromise and about effects they are already seeing or fearing.
Carolyn Ng, a contractor who works with student interns at Goddard, said she is concerned that a realignment of federal spending on science, technology, engineering and math education, or STEM, could limit training opportunities at the space flight center. The move is seeking to coordinate STEM efforts across science-focused agencies, said Bob Gabrys, director of education at Goddard.
"It's difficult to say that shouldn't be true," Gabrys said. "But we don't know how it would be implemented."
At another meeting with Cardin at Howard Community College's Ecker Business Training Center, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said what frustrates him is not that the budget is being cut, which he said needs to happen, but how it is being done with across-the-board cuts.
"It doesn't allow intelligent decisions to be made," he said.
Cardin said he does not have "a lot of confidence" the House will put an end to sequestration.
"The initiation will have to come from either the White House or the Senate," he said.
The sessions were part of a series of town hall meetings Cardin has held in recent weeks, including at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, with small business owners in Prince George's County, and at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.
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