WASHINGTON: Meet the new plan, same as the old plan. Yesterday, Republicans immediately rejected President Obama’s proposal to stop sequestration — the automatic spending cuts set to kick in March 1st and hamstring Army, Air Force, and Navy readiness, according to Pentagon documents — as a retread of tax-hike proposals he’s been making since 2011. This afternoon, not to be outdone, a bicameral band of GOP legislators will re-introduce a stop-sequester bill from February 2012.
“It’s a reprise” of last year’s bill, one GOP staffer told Breaking Defense.
“We will be reintroducing the Down Payment to Protect National Security Act that would pay for one year of defense and non-defense sequestration by requiring a reduction in the federal workforce through attrition,” echoed a Senate aide. “There are some slight modifications.”
It’s a “rehash,” agreed a third staffer, advising Breaking Defense to “skip” this afternoon’s roll-out. (We won’t).
Obama’s proposal would have staved off sequestration temporarily through a “balanced” approach that both cuts spending and raises tax revenues — which Republicans consider deeply unbalanced because they accepted significant tax hikes in the last band-aid deal on New Year’s Day.
“In January, he got $600 billion in new revenue — where were the spending cuts?” asked Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, in an appearance this morning on the GOP-friendly Fox & Friends.
“Taxes are decided,” House Armed Services Committee vice-chairman Mac Thornbery told Breaking Defense a week ago. The well-respected Texas Republican, a level-headed and non-partisan leader on defense issues, expressed the new GOP consensus that, rather than accept the President’s terms, it would be better to let sequestration go into effect, if only for a month or so, and use the resulting crisis to force Democrats to bend.
Of course, that strategy assumes that Democrats aren’t counting on the pain of sequestration to force Republicans to bend. This is how teenagers playing “chicken” end up in a head-on crash.
Today’s GOP proposal hardly improves matters. With modest modifications, it repeats a proposal that already went nowhere: stave off the sequestration cuts for a fiscal year by requiring federal agencies to downsize their work force through attrition — hiring only one new civil servants for every three who leave — until the total workforce has fallen by 10 percent. (Note that Congress would still have to make up the other nine years of sequestration cuts, totaling about a trillion dollars, somewhere else; nor does the bill address the separate problem of the Continuing Resolution now funding the federal government in the absence of a proper appropriations bill). For Defense, this downsizing merely returns the Department to staffing levels as of 2009, when DoD had enough civil servants to handle the height of the Iraq War.
So it’s not an implausible idea; in fact, as Ayotte noted this morning, it’s based on a proposal from “his [the President's] own fiscal commission.” But Democrats rejected slashing the civil service a year ago and they haven’t gotten any less dependent on federal workers’ unions than they were then. Conversely, Republicans have fought the Democratic tax hikes that would disproportionately affect the GOP’s donors in the business community.
“He’s concerned obviously about sequestration,” Ayotte said of the President this morning. “We are too — but new taxes are not the way to go. Why don’t we really look at the big picture?”
But with both parties retreading old proposals, that big picture looks awfully bleak.