A group of Senate Republicans are attempting to force Democrats and the White House to deal with the defense sequester and the effect it might have on the nation’s military readiness.
To do that, at least four GOP Senators are vowing to offer an amendment to every bill that moves to the Senate floor in an attempt to secure language requiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to conduct a study by August detailing the effect
$487 billion in automatic spending cuts will have on defense programs once the sequester starts in January.
At the moment the Senators are eyeing the farm bill, currently on the Senate floor, as a legislative vehicle.
“We need to know,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said off the Senate floor after giving a speech about the cuts.
“One of the problems we have is not only sequestration itself ... but the American people don’t fully understand the impact not only from a national security standpoint but from an economic standpoint,” McCain said on the floor.
Panetta himself has called the potential cuts “devastating” and warned that they could result in “the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915 and the smallest Air Force in its history.”
Those comments and others have served as a rallying call for Republican defense hawks such as McCain.
Under the August 2011 law that raised the debt ceiling, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts over 10 years will be split evenly between security and nonsecurity spending and are set to go into effect starting next year. The cuts were triggered by
the failure of the super committee to reach a deal on a bipartisan deficit reduction plan.
But Democrats and the president have said Republicans need to accept the cuts or broker a deficit reduction deal that includes tax increases.
Republicans “voted for it,” along with Democrats as part of the debt ceiling deal, said a Senate Democratic leadership aide, adding that it was intended to be a painful scenario so that the super committee would be motivated to work together on a deficit reduction plan.
“The way to fix it is to propose a balanced deal” that includes revenues, the aide said. “We are happy to have that conversation.”
“No one is looking forward to this,” the aide continued. “But there is no getting around it without a balanced plan.”
Republicans believe the Defense Department cannot absorb the cuts without compromising national security and are trying to raise awareness of the issue among their colleagues in order to help spur action to replace the proposed cuts.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who is also among the group of concerned Senators, said the hope is that the report will motivate lawmakers to act.
“If they put pen to paper we think [it will be], first of all, transparency for the American people so they know where these cuts are going to be made and also, frankly, a wake-up call for Members of Congress for their district, their state, so they will know what’s coming,” Ayotte said.
The amendment “is already in the [fiscal 2013] defense authorization bill, but the concern is that the defense authorization will not get voted on soon enough,” Ayotte said, underscoring that the Senators will seek to attach it to any vehicle that comes to the floor.
The 2012 defense authorization wasn’t signed into law until Dec. 31, 2011.
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Ayotte cited a study from George Mason University that said the cuts could cost 1 million jobs, including 123,000 from Virginia, 39,000 from Florida, 36,000 from Pennsylvania, 34,000 from Connecticut, 18,000 from Ohio and 11,000 from North Carolina.
“One million jobs wakes me up,” she said off the Senate floor.
There is also concern from contractors about being able to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires them to give at least 60 days notice before laying off workers or “they have to keep them on the rolls and pay them,” Ayotte said.
“That is one of the difficulties, too,” Ayotte said. “I have heard from many of them that they are likely to have to issue them before the election.”
Ayotte said the U.S. Conference of Mayors contacted her to raise questions about the economic impact of the cuts. By her calculations, the National Guard could see a cut of 50,000, which would affect states and cities during national disasters.
Sens. John Thune (S.D.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) also spoke Tuesday on the floor about the amendment.
It’s unlikely the amendment will get a vote on the farm bill, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved Tuesday to block all amendments to the bill.
A Senate Republican aide said Senate Democrats appear to have given up legislating on big issues until after the elections.
“It’s a good idea to try to solve big problems, but Reid has said it’s only going to be small ball,” the aide said. “Democrats don’t want to take any tough votes before the election.”