U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin told members of the House of Delegates Friday that he doubts whether the Congress will meet a March 1 deadline for avoiding automatic federal budget cuts.
Cardin, who was in Annapolis to meet with the Baltimore city and Prince George's County delegations, said disagreements between the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-dominated House could prevent lawmakers from agreeing on a deficit reduction plan before that time.
The automatic cuts, which would take place under a process known as sequestration would affect both military and domestic programs. Because of Maryland's heavy reliance on federal spending, such cuts would be expected to have a significant impact on its economy if left to stand.
Cardin, a Democrat, said his guess is that even if Congress lets the deadline pass, lawmakers will reach some accord on spending in March or April. He acknowledged that such an agreement could be concluded either late in the General Assembly session or after it adjourns April 8 -- possibly complicating budget decisions.
"That's not how federalism should work," Cardin told city delegates.
In an interview the senator said it's possible that congressional leaders will agree to extend the deadline even if a full deficit accord hasn't been reached.
Even if the deadline isn't extended, Cardin said, the immediate consequences wouldn't be catastrophic.
"It's not like a deficit ceiling where you can't pay your bills," he said. "There's no immediate impact."
Cardin added, however, that any prolonged delay in reversing the sequestration would have bad consequences for the economy.
"It still puts a cloud over an agency in awarding its contracts," he said.