BETHESDA – Automatic spending cuts at the National Institutes of Health could cost the economy as many as many 100,000 jobs, Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said Friday.
Across-the-board spending cuts will hit government agencies, including NIH, on March 1 if Congress is unable to reach a deal. The cuts, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years, are part of a “poison pill” package agreed to by legislators in 2011.
NIH would be required to reduce its budget by $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2013, agency director Francis Collins said. The agency would likely have to reduce the funding it provides to medical researchers.
“We’re going to lose a lot of potential researchers,” Cardin said at the town hall.
Federal workers, including those at NIH, could also be forced to take unpaid time-off, known as a “furlough.”
“I’m worried about having to take furloughs,” said William Gandler, a computer programmer who has worked at the agency for 30 years. “I wouldn’t be able to save as much for retirement as I should be.”
Federal workers have not received a pay raise since late 2010, though President Barack Obama recently ordered a .5 percent raise after March 27.
The prognosis for staving off the cuts is “not very bright,” Cardin said. And because so many Marylanders — almost 6 percent of the state’s work force — are employed by the government, sequestration would disproportionately hurt Maryland.
“We’re at the day of judgment,” Cardin said. “If (the cuts) take effect, they will cause significant damage to our country.”
He suggested that federal workers have been unfairly targeted.
“You have been the scapegoat for every problem,” Cardin said to the audience of approximately 400. “This deficit was not caused by our federal workers. You’re not responsible for that deficit.”
Cardin encouraged NIH’s work force to “put a face on the issue” of federal spending cuts and to speak out about against it.
Collins, who has led NIH since August 2009, expressed his confidence in Cardin’s interest in heading off the spending cuts.
“I know he is a strong supporter of a good outcome here.”