The $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts slated to take effect next week are a loud "wake-up call" to the country's spending ills, Tennessee's junior senator said Friday.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Chattanooga, said he expects the cuts to go into effect Friday.
The United States, he said, would be "better off as a nation if we let the sequester kick in than we would to continue to sweep this problem under the rug."
Still, the cuts, dubbed sequestration, are "a ham-handed" way to curb spending, Corker told a group of Chattanooga business people and others.
"The best thing for us to do is figure out a way wisely to reduce spending over the next decade," he said. "It can be done in a way that does not have some of the negative impact we have with the sequester."
The automatic, across-the-board cuts are expected to touch on everything from defense to airline traffic to various government services.
For example, Chattanooga Airport officials worry about slowdowns in air travel.
"Sequestration could have a negative impact on air travel across the country through air traffic control slowdowns and Transportation Security Administration agent reductions which would affect security wait times, particularly at hub airports," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief.
Cutting $1 billion from the Transportation Department would affect dozens of programs, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters Friday. The vast majority of the FAA's nearly 47,000 employees will face furloughs, he said -- and the largest number of FAA employees are air traffic controllers.
Travelers will likely endure 90-minute waits flying to major U.S. cities like New York and Chicago because of fewer controllers on staff, LaHood said, according to McClatchy Newspapers.
Many of the 2,400 personnel at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex in nearby Tullahoma, Tenn., are bracing for furloughs and reduced flight simulation testing.
"Right now there's a lot of uncertainty," said Jason Austin, AEDC public affairs director.
He said he would be subject to an unpaid furlough one day each week for 22 weeks. "It's nice to be with the family but ..., " Austin said.
Coffee County Mayor David Pennington termed the looming cuts at AEDC "scary."
"I'm really concerned," said Pennington, adding that Defense Department priority will go to clothing, feeding and arming soldiers rather than flight testing.
He said AEDC has more than a $600 million-a-year economic impact, and the cuts "could be a bite out of that."
According to a 2012 study by a George Mason University professor, the sequester would cut 39,120 jobs in Tennessee and 54,512 in Georgia.
A report released last week by the House Appropriations Committee's Democratic members shows broad impacts across the federal landscape -- including the U.S. Department of Energy's operations in Oak Ridge, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Up to 1,000 workers at Y-12 could be furloughed for six months to deal with the federal spending cuts.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory also would pay a price if Congress doesn't act to avoid the budget sequestration, according to the Knoxville paper.
The House Democrats said ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor would be among the science research facilities shut down, the paper reported.
At nearby national parks, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees released new details on how sequestration cuts would be implemented.
The organization -- citing National Park Service information -- reported that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would have to close five campgrounds and picnic areas affecting more than 54,000 visitors, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Also, staff reductions would result in reduced road maintenance and increased time for emergency responses to accidents, rock slides, ice and hazardous tree removal on the park's most heavily traveled thoroughfares.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park would see a cut of $168,000, according to the group.
Corker said President Barack Obama ought to be given flexibility to manage the spending cuts through August. That could make the estimated $1.2 trillion in reductions "manageable," the former Chattanooga mayor said.
He said that it's "almost unfathomable we can't find a way to trim spending by $1.2 trillion" given that the federal government plans to spend $47 trillion over 10 years.
"The wise thing is just to agree to $1.2 trillion in spending reductions, and I've got a bill that does that," Corker said.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is behind the bill, said cutting spending requires presidential leadership.
"It requires the kind of leadership President Nixon gave when he went against his own party and made an agreement with China, that President Clinton did on welfare reform, that President Reagan did on Social Security," Alexander said.