POLITICS

Johnny Isakson Says Sequestration Not A Concern In Georgia, But Constituents Disagree

03/25/2013 04:46 pm ET | Updated Mar 26, 2013

WASHINGTON -- As he heads home for recess over the next two weeks, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) says he's not worried about facing blowback from his constituents over the steep budget cuts brought on by sequestration. After all, Georgians are largely happy to see Congress getting control over its spending habits.

"To be very honest, most of everything I hear is that people are glad we are actually finally cutting spending," Isakson told National Journal, though he added that he'd heard some military bases, defense contractors and air traffic controllers would be affected. "In general, everybody else in Georgia has been having to cut their budgets for years because of the recession. I think they are glad we are finally doing something about spending. So it’s caused some consternation but it's overall not a lot of phone calls."

But a survey of local news reports in Isakson's home state paints a very different picture, with Georgians in all sectors of society -- the military, education, health care and transportation -- worried about how they will grapple with the $85 billion in federal spending cuts to programs across the country.

At least one constituent feeling the pinch says that she's voiced her concerns directly to Isakson's staff.

"I have been in D.C. and I've spoken to his staffers regarding the impact of sequestration, and we also have had parents who have visited his district offices in Atlanta," said Belva Dorsey, who runs a Head Start program in Columbus, Ga. "So I'm not sure if his staff are still compiling some of the comments or some of the information we have shared, or if he just hasn't heard a certain number of voices who would create a tipping point for him."

Dorsey's situation serves as a microcosm of the broader debate over sequestration. While much of Washington, D.C., focuses on the impact the cuts will have on the deficit, state and local officials are struggling to minimize the fallout of removing billions of dollars from the economy in a short period of time.

Across the country, stories are emerging about the dramatic ripple effects of sequestration, from air traffic towers being closed to scientific research being slashed, from tuition assistance for military personnel getting suspended to Head Start programs being gutted.

The White House estimates Georgia will lose around $28.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education, meaning the jobs of 390 teachers and aides will be at risk.

Dorsey's Head Start program will likely have to drop 45 to 60 students from the 933 it serves once it reconvenes in September, in order to meet a mandatory 5 percent budget cut. She and her aides have met twice with Isakson's staff, she said, as well as with staffers for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), in order to explain how the program helps needy kids close the learning gap before entering kindergarten. But the lobbying has been for naught.

"I was very hopeful [sequestration would be avoided] before March 1," she said. "At this point, based on some of the feedback I have received from staffers on the Hill, it looks like it won't get resolved this fiscal year unfortunately, which means there will be a negative impact on our most vulnerable population."

In a statement to The Huffington Post, Isakson stressed that he never thought sequestration was the best option to cut spending. Still, he argued, Georgians do support overall cuts to the federal budget.

"I have said all along that sequestration is not the best option because thoughtless, across-the-board cuts punish those who are efficient and reward those who are not," he said. "Sequestration was not designed to be anyone's ideal method for getting our hands around government spending, and it certainly isn't mine. I make it a point to go home every weekend so I can meet with Georgians and hear from them directly. In the past several weeks, the general consensus has been that Georgians overwhelmingly favor overall cuts in government spending, and that is why I have not received significant push back from constituents."

Isakson did not specifically address Dorsey's concerns.

Local news reports show other Georgia residents have similar worries.

Mary and Bob Haas work at an air traffic control tower in Albany, Ga. But now that the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it will be closing that tower -- along with many others around the country -- due to sequestration, the couple will be laid off.

"Well, on a personal basis, financially it's devastating for us to lose our jobs simultaneously," Mary Haas told FOX 31.

In Liberty County, residents told Georgia Public Broadcasting that they're already seeing the effects of sequestration. Local businesses have taken a hit, sales tax collections are down and schools are figuring out where to cut corners.

"We have two high schools and my daughter is in one of the high schools," said Liberty County High School principal Paula Scott. "And I know that they have it where they can only use so much paper. That tells you how tight the budget is there."

Watch a sampling of local news reports about sequestration in Georgia:

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