With the BWI Marshall Airport terminal as a backdrop, Democratic members of Maryland's congressional delegation took turns Friday bashing mandatory federal budget cuts they said could harm not only air travel but local businesses that rely on passenger traffic.
"Sequestration is no way to run a country," thundered Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, his words echoing off shiny floors and windows as people with suitcases scurried by. "I told my staff this morning, 'I didn't come to Washington to throw my constituents under the bus.' "
The U.S. Department of Transportation is facing a $7 billion cut, with $600 million of that money coming from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Sen. Ben Cardin said workers were being notified that they face furloughs and that five control towers at Maryland's smaller airports were on a list for possible temporary closure.
"The tragedy is this was avoidable. This is a self-inflicted wound," Cardin said. "Sequestration doesn't allow rational decisions to be made."
But Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who was not invited to Friday's event, said he heard nothing in FAA Administrator Michael Huerta's testimony Wednesday before the House Transportation Committee that would signal doom and gloom.
"The bottom line is, this is less than a 2 percent cut to their overall budget — $30 million a month — in a budget of over $7 billion. I'm convinced that when they finally get around to taking a look at their budget that they will find the monies to be able to take a 2 percent cut to their budget and still deliver first-rate service to Americans," Harris said.
Paul Wiedefeld, executive director of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, said his staff was talking with FAA and Transportation Security Administration officials about expected problems if the number of flights is reduced to ensure air traffic and terminal safety.
"We're just part of a big system, so any hiccups in New York or Boston will be felt here," he said. "Uncertainty in business is not good. It's not good for the airlines, the employees or the customers."
BWI supports nearly 94,000 jobs, generates $5.6 billion in business revenue and contributes $721 million in taxes each year, said Linda Greene, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership, a group of merchants and employers. Last year, the airport set a record for traffic, handling 22.7 million passengers and 246.4 million pounds of cargo.
The ripple effect of a slowdown would extend beyond the airport, hurting hotels and restaurants and transportation providers. With Easter and spring break coming at the end of the month, thousands of families and tourists will join business travelers trying to get through BWI, Greene said.
"Long lines and delays will not be welcomed," she said, echoing the lawmakers.
Harris cautioned against using scare tactics.
"This is why people have a bad impression of politicians in Washington, because you're going to find out that you can't believe what they're telling you," Harris said. "A week ago, the president said that the sky was going to fall March 1 when the sequester kicked in, and I looked up this morning and the sky was still there."
Cardin and Rep. John Sarbanes, whose district includes BWI, said they are confident that a solution can be reached before the full effects of sequestration are felt.
"The House, we are ready to convene at a moment's notice," Sarbanes said.
But finding a substitute for sequestration that appeases both Democrats and Republicans is not the end of the fiscal battles. The continuing resolution that keeps the government funded expires March 27 and a vote on raising the debt ceiling likely will come in May.
"The question is, what comes next after this?" asked Cummings. "How slippery is this slope, and how deep will it go?"Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun