WILKES-BARRE – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Friday said Congress and the country are facing significant fiscal deadlines that need to be met.
Casey, D-Scranton, said March 1 is the deadline for Congress to come up with deficit reductions of up to $85 billion or face automatic cuts – known as sequestration.
It's the law, Casey said in a meeting at The Times Leader newsroom. We have to make the cuts and get through the year.
Senate Democrats are working on a bill to be presented in a week or two, Casey said. Unless an alternative is agreed upon, Congress is looking at making draconian budget cuts over the next 10 years – some $900 billion – to resolve the country's financial dilemma, he said.
Sequestration cuts could harm military facilities such as the Tobyhanna Army Depot, the region's largest employer, Casey said.
Economic experts predict that sequestration would slow growth and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Democrats and Republicans should come together to avoid the harmful impacts of sequestration, cut wasteful spending and keep the economy moving forward, Casey said.
Congress also must approve the Continuing Resolution by March 27 to allow government to continue operating. Then Congress can fund government if a formal appropriations bill has not been signed into law. We have to figure out how to pay for government operations, Casey said. The gridlock we've seen in Washington results in these short-term agreements. It's not a good way to do things.
The debt ceiling debate will resume in mid-May, said Casey, but could be put off to as late as August. Casey was pleased when Republicans recently abandoned a plan to oppose raising the debt ceiling, a move that could have harmed the economy, he said.
The approaching deadlines present challenges, said Casey, but in the midst of all the debate surrounding them, jobs have to be created.
We've got to be growing while we're cutting, he said. Job creation has to happen.
Casey recently unveiled his first bill of the new congressional session – the Small Business Job Creation Act of 2013 – which would give a tax break to certain businesses that hire new workers and increase wages.
Based on current average weekly earnings of private-sector employees, a business would receive a tax break of approximately $4,250 over the course of the year for hiring an additional employee. Casey said many Americans have been bemoaning the slow pace of job growth, and although he has seen some good numbers over the last several months, Congress needs to do more to create conditions to accelerate job growth.
Casey hopes his bill will spur job creation by giving small-business owners flexibility to increase their workforces.
But Casey said he worries about the effects the fiscal deadlines and pressures, coupled with the partisanship in Congress, will have on creating jobs. We can't do this without some rough-tough bipartisanship, he said.
Casey said Democrats and Republicans have come together on the immigration issue and, in Pennsylvania, elected officials of both parties are trying to attract a new facility being built by the Federal Aviation Administration. The proposed air-traffic control building must be sited within 150 miles of New York City. So far, only Albany, N.Y, is a prime contender for the project.
Casey won a second, six-year term in the Senate with a decisive victory over Republican Tom Smith, who outspent Casey $21 million to $14 million.
With an off-year election coming in 2014, Casey sees Republicans more willing to work across the aisle. If all of our challenges are met in a reasonably successful manner, the economy could really take off, he said. I think the window of opportunity to get things done is now – 2013 is a critically important year.