WASHINGTON — In the avalanche of ominous warnings about the impact of forced federal spending cuts on South Carolina, perhaps none is more chilling than this:
If Congress and President Barack Obama fail to reach a deal and the cuts start next Friday as scheduled, nearly 20 women in the Palmetto State this year could fail to be diagnosed with breast cancer or cervical cancer because of missed screenings that would have detected them, according to an estimate based on figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics on S.C. screenings and diagnoses over five years.
Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security benefits would not go down because they are exempt from the upcoming cuts. But there are more warnings that, while less dire than cancer diagnoses, still are alarming.
The unemployment rate in South Carolina, now at 8.4 percent, could rise to double digits again. An analysis by George Mason University in Virginia suggests the state’s overall economy could take a $3 billion hit in 2013, a third from the loss of direct federal funds and the rest from private-sector firms that supply goods or services for dozens of government programs.
While U.S. Sen. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, has focused attention on the harm to national security, others have warned the cuts would hurt thousands of South Carolinians with no ties to the military, among them low-income mothers and their young children, university scientists who rely on federal research grants, students at the poorest schools and folks who’ve been without work for months.
Despite pledges by some lawmakers to try to work across the aisle, Friday’s deadline for automatic spending cuts extends the partisan struggle that began in summer 2011 with a weeks-long impasse over whether to increase the government’s borrowing authority.
Democratic President Barack Obama subsequently was re-elected. And, this go-round, Americans blame Republicans more than Democrats for that impasse, according to polls.
Now Obama, his Cabinet members and congressional Democrats are trying to press their advantage by releasing reams of data that purport to show devastating impacts from the forced cuts. Many Republicans counter those impacts are exaggerated and the cuts won’t be so bad.
“I don’t believe we should drastically reduce our military readiness, lay off police officers and TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents and cut public schools funding to protect tax loopholes for the wealthy,” said House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia. “South Carolina will suffer significantly due to these draconian cuts.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Friday of flight cancellations and delays lasting as long as 90 minutes because of furloughs to air-traffic controllers.
The Federal Aviation Administration released a list of air-traffic control facilities that could be closed, among them those at airports in North Myrtle Beach and Florence. A separate list of towers where overnight shifts might disappear includes those at the Columbia and Charleston airports.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Laurens Republican also starting his second term, said the federal agencies should be able to handle what he described as relatively minor spending cuts in order to help protect his constituents and other South Carolinians.
“Every agency should be able to absorb these cuts.”