Uncertainty Reigns As Massive Defense Cut Deadline Closes In

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala.(WHNT)-President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night hit on a variety of topics, including the looming sequestration deadline and its potentially devastating impact on north Alabama's local economy.

All eyes are on the White House and Congress due to massive defense cuts set to take effect on March 1, but what it all means for our area remains to be seen.

One recent study suggests that Alabama could lose up to 40,000 jobs under the so-called sequestration plan, with the bulk of those cuts taking place at Redstone Arsenal and its surrounding defense contractors. The $500 billion worth of cuts would only take place if President Obama and Congress cannot beat the deadline, with roughly $46 billion in cutbacks scheduled for the first six months alone.

Former Redstone Arsenal Commander Lt. Gen. James Pillsbury (Ret.) spoke with WHNT News 19 about the potential impact of sequestration on Tuesday.

"What I'm hearing is not doom and gloom," said Gen. Pillsbury, who managed Redstone Arsenal from 2003 through 2007.  "I think we'll be okay. It's going to be tough, but everyone just has to keep their chin up and drive on... Certainly, there are those doing budget drills, 'what-if' drills.  A lot of hard work has gone into what do we have to do, what can we do, what is it we must do... Huntsville, while it's not recession proof or sequestration proof, certainly absorbs the downturns better than any location I've been in in 38 years of wandering this country."

General Pillsbury has stayed in contact with officials at Redstone Arsenal and local defense contractors over the last few months, many of them bracing for potentially heavy spending cuts. The specific impact on Redstone would only be determined after sequestration takes effect.

An economic punch isn't the only concern, with several military leaders warning of national security risks posed by cutbacks less than 24 hours after North Korea conducted another nuclear test.

The $500 billion worth of cuts would be implemented over a 10-year period if the automatic provision is triggered. Military and defense spending would take roughly 50 percent of all spending cuts in the federal budget, even though that category accounts for just 15 percent of total federal spending.

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