The D.C. region's defense contractors are warning that the area could be peppered with layoff notices just days or weeks before the fall election unless Congress acts to head off automatic budget cuts that would slice defense spending.

If Congress fails to act by January, $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts -- half of it from the defense budget -- would kick in, and because defense contractors have to give workers 60 days notice of any job cuts, those pink slips could start showing up in voters' mailboxes right around the time of the Nov. 6 election, contractors said.

The cuts, which trim funding over 10 years, would kick in unless Congress can agree on a new plan to reduce the federal budget deficit. But with Republicans calling for deeper cuts to reduce the debt and Democrats calling for new taxes, few are hopeful Congress will strike a compromise in time.

Members of Northern Virginia's congressional delegation said that region, in particular -- where nearly one in every five employees works for the Pentagon or a defense contractor -- would suffer greatly if Congress failed to head off the automatic cuts.

"Virginia is the recipient of a disproportionate share of total defense spending, with Northern Virginia comprising a significant portion of that amount," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said. "The severe, arbitrary cuts ... would certainly have a negative impact on the regional economy. If Congress can't resolve this, we will certainly feel the pinch."

Congress has four months until contractors must begin notifying employees about potential layoffs, and Connolly and others said they're hoping Congress will strike a deal before the cuts take affect. But in a gridlocked Congress in which Republicans and Democrats have fought ferociously over budget cuts, taxes and even the nation's borrowing limit -- instability that resulted in a downgrading of the nation's AAA bond rating -- the possibility of a deal appears slim.

"We are studying the potential impact of [those automatic cuts] for our customers and our business, but it is already creating uncertainty that is having an impact throughout our industry and the broader economy," said Kelly Raulerson, a spokeswoman for Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin. "And if it occurs, it would certainly result in additional facility consolidation and job losses."