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updated: 3/1/2013 7:41 PM

Durbin, other leaders frustrated with federal budget troubles

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  • U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, speaks about the impact of the government sequestration budget cuts on the state's leading research universities and hospitals during a news conference Friday in Chicago.

    U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, speaks about the impact of the government sequestration budget cuts on the state's leading research universities and hospitals during a news conference Friday in Chicago.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Friday he's as frustrated as most Americans with the repeated "doomsday scenario" involving the federal budget.

Appearing with hospital researchers in Chicago on the day that $85 billion in automatic spending cuts were to take effect, the Senate's No. 2 Democratic leader joined an effort by both political parties to blame each other for the problem when he pointed at House Republicans he said are not willing to negotiate.

"You fix it with an election," Durbin said. "Unfortunately, at this point, there is control in the House of Representatives by a group that invites this. They like this approach. I think it's a mistake."

Illinois Republicans also were pointing fingers. U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton said in a video on his website that he heard from taxpayers who were worried about President Barack Obama raising taxes and questioned why Obama hadn't met with leaders until Friday. Roskam said Republicans wanted "more thoughtful" cuts.

"We don't have to go back to the taxpayers yet again when there's absurd examples of waste and fraud," Roskam said. "We need to be better, smarter and more clever about how we're spending the money."

Durbin's remarks came at a news conference focusing on the impact of $1.6 billion in automatic spending cuts at the National Institute of Health, just one of the many agencies affected by the federal budget reduction. Illinois is the 10th largest recipient of NIH money and could lose roughly $38 million, Durbin said. The cuts could lead to the loss of 727 jobs, he said.

"We have lived the last two years and three months with this doomsday scenario recurring time after time: threatened government shutdowns, threatened economy shutdowns, threats on the fiscal cliff, threats on sequestration," Durbin said. "This is no way to run a government and it's no way to run a great nation."

Researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, Lurie Children's Hospital, University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago joined Durbin in calling for a compromise that preserves funding for research.

"For basic research, the sequester is a move in the wrong direction," said Jay Walsh, vice president of research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who urged the president and Congress to more strategically deal with the budget deficit.

Durbin said there was "no doubt in my mind that some of the cuts to medical research will have a direct impact on lives and the quality of life. We're talking about cancer research. We're talking about treating diabetes. These are deadly diseases."

Illinois residents won't wake up Monday and notice much change because of the spending cuts -- known as sequestration -- Durbin acknowledged, but he said aviation spending cuts to be announced soon may force "some downstate airports" to close.

Durbin's staff later clarified that it's not known whether any airports will close immediately.

"We will know more when the FAA releases additional details next week," said Durbin spokeswoman Christina Angarola in an email. "What we do know is that several air traffic control towers and other air traffic control facilities will close and downstate airport directors have told Sen. Durbin's staff that safety will be impacted as a result."

Air traffic control towers could close at Illinois airports in Alton, Sugar Grove, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, West Chicago, Murphysboro, Marion, Springfield and Waukegan, according to a list provided by Durbin's office.

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