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Senators propose civilian pay freeze through 2014

Feb. 2, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By KATE BRANNEN   |   Comments
Among those sponsoring the bill that would induce an extended pay freeze are, from left, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Among those sponsoring the bill that would induce an extended pay freeze are, from left, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. (Pete Marovich / Getty Images)

A handful of Republican senators introduced a plan Thursday that would delay Defense Department spending cuts required under sequestration by extending the current pay freeze for civilian employees through June 2014 and cutting the federal workforce by 5 percent.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is leading the charge to delay budget cuts to DoD that would come from sequestration, which imposes automatic cuts on federal discretionary spending in January 2013 if Congress fails to cut $1.2 trillion in deficit spending. For the Pentagon, sequestration would take an additional $500 billion from the Pentagon's base budget over the next 10 years.

DoD is already cutting $487 billion over the 10-year period to meet the initial spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act.

McCain introduced the legislation, titled "Down Payment to Protect National Security Act of 2012," during a news briefing on Capitol Hill.

Sequestration is viewed by almost everyone as a terrible way to reduce government spending because it applies cuts across the federal budget in an arbitrary way. It was included in the Budget Control Act, which became law in August, in an effort to motivate the bipartisan supercommittee to reach an agreement on a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction package.

With the supercommittee's November failure, sequestration is set to begin in January 2013 unless Congress produces $1.2 trillion in savings or revises the law.

The Republicans' plan would produce enough money to stave off sequestration in 2013 by banking on savings that would take as long as 10 years to achieve.

By extending the federal pay freeze and reducing the federal workforce through attrition, the plan would produce $127 billion in savings.

According to McCain, about $110 billion is needed to cover the first year of cuts under sequestration.

Members of Congress would be included in the proposed pay freeze, which would extend through June 2014. The 5 percent reduction in the federal workforce would be achieved by hiring two workers for every three who leave. This could take up to 10 years to achieve, McCain said.

The plan is similar to the one crafted by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., but includes some differences.

McKeon's bill calls for a 10 percent reduction to the workforce through attrition, and it does not include the pay freeze provision.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Jon Kyl and John Cornyn joined McCain at the news briefing. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is also a sponsor of the bill.

The senators had harsh words for President Obama, saying he has failed to show leadership on the issue, while Defense Secretary Leon Panetta continues to warn about the dangers of sequestration and its impacts on the military.

Obama has said he would veto any plan that would undo the Budget Control Act's sequestration provision, because he believes it could still be the forcing function that makes Congress come together on a much broader solution to reduce the country's deficit. Obama would like to see tax increases included in such a package, while Republicans refuse to include them in any deal.

Taxes were a contentious issue for the supercommittee, and they remain the major obstacle for any larger deal. This point was reflected in the immediate response from Democrats to the Republican senators' plan.

"This plan isn't about avoiding sequestration, it's about avoiding having millionaires pay their fair share," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement. Murray served as co-chair of the supercommittee.

McCain said Congress should not let domestic issues like taxes interfere with national security.

If sequestration remains unresolved after the November elections, the tax cuts, first signed into law by President George W. Bush, become an inextricable part of the debate. If allowed to expire on Dec. 31, there would be a surge in tax revenue of roughly $3.7 trillion over 10 years.

If extended by Congress and the president, they could be viewed as the action that forces sequestration, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in an interview last week.

"Throw all that into the stew and I don't think we pass a complete continuation of the Bush tax cuts, knowing that it will cause sequestration to actually happen," he said.

McCain, Cornyn and Kyl voted for the Budget Control Act, which included the sequestration provision. Graham and Ayotte did not.

"In my view, allowing the sequestration to occur, is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible political decisions that have been made around here in memory," Ayotte said.

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