BELLEVILLE — Up to 4,500 of nearly 7,000 workers at Scott Air Force Base could receive unpaid weekly furloughs over the next five months, causing a $28 million direct hit to the metro-east economy.
Such will be the direct fallout if Congress and the White House fail to make a deal to avoid the deep spending cuts set to occur March 1 because of the federal sequester, according to U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville.
Enyart met Thursday morning with top officers from the major units based at Scott Air Force Base.
The sequester, if it occurs, won't affect the nation's war-fighting efforts, Enyart said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
"But there will be an impact on training, on readiness, training of forces," he said.
In addition, all non-essential civilian personnel -- about 4,500 workers -- will receive a weekly unpaid furlough day for the next 22 weeks, Enyart said.
The economic impact of these cuts, if they take place, are obvious, he said.
"There'll be probably fewer cars sold, and there'll be fewer boats purchased and fewer neckties purchased," he said.
Congress has been in recess for the past week, but is scheduled to reconvene on Monday. But so far Enyart has not seen any bill to vote on, though negotiations between the White House and Congress are still taking place, he said.
Enyart spoke to the media after meeting at his Belleville office with a group of seven representatives of contractors that do business at Scott with the Department of Defense or other federal agencies.
William Dunn, an executive at the Camber Corp., which provides cyber-training for some military units at Scott, said one impact of a potential sequester is great levels of uncertainty for defense workers, causing them to cut their spending.
"And they don't know when they come to work that day if there'll be a termination notice and they'll be out of work," Dunn said. "So what does that do? They quit spending. So they're pulling back. They don't know where they're going to go."
Under the current scenario, about $1.2 trillion would be cut from the federal budget over the next decade because of the sequester. The Defense Department would see $46 billion in cuts from its fiscal 2013 budget of about $655 billion, a hit that could cause as many as 700,000 of the Pentagon's 800,000 civilian workers to be furloughed without pay for at least one day a week, according to national news reports.
If Congress fails to approve spending cuts to avoid the sequester when lawmakers reconvene next week, then nearly 10 percent of program budgets would be slashed, hitting nearly all federal programs.