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Casey warns of lost jobs, funding in Pa. because of federal budget cuts

Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
At the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown, Senator Bob Casey addresses the media, Friday, December 14th, 2012, about the Veteran's Administration's handling of the recent legionnaires' outbreak.

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Congress' inability to stitch together a budget soon could cost the United States its leadership in medical research — and cost Pennsylvania thousands of jobs, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. said Friday.

The state lost as many as 1,200 jobs and more than $70 million in research funding this year because of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that Congress enacted after the 2011 budget impasse, Casey said.

Federal research spending plummeted by 20 percent during the budget fights of the past three years, to its lowest level since 2002, adjusted for inflation, according to a report by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which will be distributed to members of Congress next week.

“The country that has led the world in medical research is beginning to lose its edge — not because we don't have great scientists, not because we don't have great researchers, not because we don't have great doctors. ... The reason is that the politics of Washington have led to these kind of indiscriminate cuts, and we've got to reverse it,” Casey, D-Scranton, said after touring research labs at Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside.

The second round of sequestration cuts, expected to cut $90 billion overall, is scheduled to take effect in January unless members of Congress, who just reopened government last week after an impasse led to a 16-day shutdown, agree on a spending plan by mid-December.

Casey's Republican counterpart, Sen. Pat Toomey of Lehigh Valley, said he will not support rolling back those cuts, though he said agencies should get more flexibility to prioritize spending — something the law doesn't allow.

“We need to reduce federal spending to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path for future generations,” Toomey said.

He blamed President Obama for exacerbating the sequestration's ill effects by not supporting a bill that Toomey and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., wrote, which Toomey said would have given Obama greater spending flexibility. The Senate voted down the bill.

“While I believe that the overall magnitude of the sequester's spending cuts should remain in place, I remain committed to working with my Senate colleagues on additional ways to ensure that these cuts are done in a more sensible manner that protects our nation's priorities,” Toomey said.

Federally funded research is a billion-dollar industry in Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh said on Thursday during a Pittsburgh Technology Council breakfast Downtown.

As money dries up, researchers are taking their work — and its economic benefits — elsewhere, Casey warned.

Medical research funding enjoys broad bipartisan support and could be the catalyst for otherwise entrenched members of Congress to come together, he said.

“Disease and trauma doesn't land on just one party or one people. It visits all of us and all of our families,” said Casey, whose late father, Robert, survived a double transplant at 61 in Pittsburgh during his tenure as Pennsylvania governor. “My father's life was saved in this city.”

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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