Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have proposed an alternative to the automatic budget cuts set to go into effect next month that includes reducing the size of the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) uses the $85 billion in savings from the workforce reductions to avert the sequestration cuts for both Defense and civilian agencies.
Under McKeon and Ayotte’s plan, federal agencies would be limited to replacing only one employee for every three that leave federal service. The hiring restrictions, which would be applied at the agency level (not within agency components) aims to give the Defense Department more flexibilty, according to a release from Ayotte’s office, and could be waived for national security reasons.
The plan also includes a measure freezing congressional pay.
The Republican lawmakers, paraphrasing comments from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other DoD officials, pointed to the harmful effects of sequestration on Pentagon spending.
“Frankly, our defense should not be used as a bargaining chip,” Ayotte said.
McKeon said the current GOP alternative would be “as painless as possible to protect our troops.”
The Republican lawmakers denounced President Barack Obama’s proposal to delay sequestration with a short-term deficit deal that includes a combination of spending cuts and more taxes.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, called Obama’s proposal a “nonstarter.”
Unions, Democrats decry ‘unfair’ cuts
Congressional Democrats and federal-employee unions panned the Republican proposal.
“It is simply unfair and unwise to target America’s public servants after they have already accepted a two-year pay freeze, an increased pension contribution, and a reduction and delay of a cost-of-living-adjustment this year,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in a statement.
Employee groups estimate that, so far, those changes to federal pay and benefits have garnered $103 billion in deficit savings.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who represents many federal workers in his district, said the latest Republican plan is an attempt “to place the brunt of deficit reduction on the backs of our federal workforce. … It is time for Congress to find a comprehensive deficit plan that asks others to pay their fair share.”
Many agencies are already facing dwindling staff numbers, said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley whose union represents some 150,000 federal employees. The Internal Revenue Service has shed about 5,000 jobs since 2011, she said.
“Everyone agrees that sequestration is terrible policy,” Kelley said in a statement. “Plans to implement it on March 1 should be abandoned, but doing so with a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce is foolhardy and would result in short staffing that could last for a decade.”
Congress has already delayed the onset of the cuts — from January to March — as part of a broader “fiscal cliff” deal.