Hawkish Republicans in the House and Senate on Wednesday responded to President Barack Obama’s call this week for a short-term plan to delay the sequester with their own proposal to avert, at least temporarily, the across-the-board cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
Their plan, which is similar to legislation introduced in the House and Senate last year, would generate $85 billion in savings — essentially paying for the first year of the sequester — by reducing the size of the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition over the next 10 years and instituting a pay freeze for members of Congress.
Under the legislation, federal agencies could hire one person for every three who leave the government. That would bring the Defense Department’s civilian workforce down to 2009 levels.
Obama’s call on Tuesday for a short-term fix to forestall the cuts drew immediate pushback from congressional Republicans, who balked at his inclusion of revenue increases as part of any detailed proposal.
The sponsors of the bill, House Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, called it a responsible plan that would forestall devastating cuts due to hit the Defense Department and other federal agencies March 1.
For the Defense Department, which makes up roughly half of all federal discretionary spending, the cuts would total $43 billion for the remainder of the current fiscal year if lawmakers and the administration cannot reach a deal on a more palatable deficit reduction package.
McKeon said the bill would give Congress some “breathing room” on sequestration while also protecting the military.
“It’s as painless as possible to protect our troops,” McKeon said.
The similar bill that McKeon offered in the last Congress never received a vote on the House floor. And the Republican bill does not currently have any backing from Democrats, making it an unlikely candidate for Senate floor consideration.
“There’s a real urgency here,” Ayotte said. “I would hope that the leadership would . . . bring this forward as a very legitimate proposal that addresses this issue, at least until the end of this fiscal year.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has said he hopes to pass a measure to replace the sequester but that it could come after the mechanism is triggered on March 1.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.