Republicans are fuming at the White House’s recent attempts to neutralize — for the moment — the hot potato of automatic defense cuts ahead of the November elections.
And the GOP is furiously looking for ways to hand back to President Barack Obama the politically sensitive issue of possible military contractor layoffs come January.
On Wednesday, the issue boiled over in a highly partisan House Armed Services Committee hearing on the roughly half a trillion dollars in defense cuts, the lack of specificity from the administration on exactly what they would mean and what the GOP considers a calculated effort by the White House to duck the political consequences until after the elections.
Republicans have been criticizing the Obama administration for months over the defense cuts agreed to in last year’s debt deal. The sequester was intended to bring both parties together to pass a major deficit reduction package, but has increasingly twisted the GOP into a pretzel.
That was the whole point, Democrats and the administration say. Their goal was to force the GOP to make a choice: They could fund defense or keep tax cuts for the rich, but not both.
Republicans, however, complain that a move by the Department of Labor this week advising contractors against sending out layoff notices in advance of the elections is aimed at letting the White House off the political hook for Obama’s strategy of taking defense spending hostage.
Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, employers are supposed to give at least 60 days notice of expected mass layoffs, but the DOL said doing so would be inappropriate under the law. The guidance noted that it’s not clear at this point where the cuts would come from and that both parties are working to find an alternative to the sequester.
Infuriated GOP leaders said the move was obviously political.
“The only reason the administration sent out this guidance to employers earlier this week was to keep people in the dark about the impact these defense cuts will have — until after the election,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. The Kentucky Republican complained that even as the administration was telling private employers not to issue layoff notices, the Office of Management and Budget was issuing guidance this week to agencies to start preparing for the looming cuts.
“So let’s get this straight: Government workers should prepare for cuts, but private businesses and their employees shouldn’t?” McConnell asked, calling it another sign of the president’s “contempt for the private sector.”
“What a perfect summary of this administration’s approach to the economy and jobs over the past three and a half years. ... The private sector’s doing just fine. It’s the government that needs help. That’s the message the administration’s sending,” he said.