Republican congressional leaders on Wednesday began a full-court press to protect the Defense Department from any potential sequestration cuts by recommending civilian federal jobs numbers be cut by 10 percent over the next year by attrition.
And in the same time the GOP leaders said the President's proposal for a budget deal – which includes military cuts and tax increases – is unacceptable. Convinced the plan lacks support on both sides of the aisle, the Republicans challenged Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to put it for a vote.
"It is responsible, unacceptable. It leaves our troops and economy unready to face the challenges of the future and the threats of today," Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said. "
Under the GOP plan, which is based on previous House and Senate bills drafted by Republicans, federal agencies would be able to hire one new person for every three that are lost through attrition. An earlier version allowed one new hire for every two people who left the payrolls.
They estimate the plan would save about $85 billion through the remainder of the year, accounting for the entire amount the government, including DoD, would have to slash if the sequestration cuts take effect on March 1 as scheduled. And making the cuts through attrition will negate furloughs and reductions-in-force.
"So it's as painless [a way] as possible to protect our troops," McKeon said.
The House and Senate Republican leadership already came out on Tuesday opposing a plan put forward by President Obama, made up of 25 percent cuts in military spending, 25 percent in domestic spending and 50 percent in revenue, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said.
"It was a non-starter. I think [President Obama] knew that," Inhofe said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said it was time to vote one way or another on a budget in the Senate, noting that the House has voted on bills but the Senate Democrats have not introduced one.
He called Obama's proposal unsound, "but lets' vote on it," he said. Or if not that, he challenged Reid to put up a budget proposal.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former ranking member of SASC, pushed the same challenge.
"Bring a bill to the floor … Let's go to work for a change," he said.
The Pentagon has already come up with more than $400 billion in cuts over the next 10 years as it scales back on spending with the end of the Iraq War and expected withdrawal from Afghanistan. The sequester cuts, totaling about $500 billion, would come on top of those already factored in.
The sequestration plan was put into law by Congress in 2011 as a way to force itself to come up with and pass a budget. The thinking then was that an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts on top of reductions already planned would be so terrible that they would have to work together.
But that plan has failed so far. The cuts were supposed to take effect in January but a last-minute deal worked out by all sides pushed the deadline back to March 1.
More than a month later, however, the two sides still cannot agree on a deal and so the sequestration "time bomb" is again ticking down.
According to Cory Bythrow, spokesman for the National Federation of Federal Employees, reducing the federal workers will not be painless, either for the military or the civilian economy.
"First question you have to ask is how does this affect the uniformed members of the military?" Bythrow said. "The only reason why there's a need for a civilian workforce is to support the mission of troops in the field. Any reduction in the civilian part of the force represents a reduction in the ability of the United States to give our active-duty men and women the support they need."
The cuts will also hurt the American public, since it will reduce the number of people working for them and reduce employment around the country, he said.
"Eighty-five percent of the federal workforce lives and works in communities across America," he said. "When you cut 10 percent you're taking most of those workers out of those communities."
Bythrow estimates a 10 percent reduction will mean 200,000 jobs across the country. This will mean staff reductions at federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Interior Department, which is responsible for National Park Service, and the Food and Drug Administration.
"Do you really want a 10 percent cut in the number of people who keep the food supply safe? You need to ask what impact this will have" across the country, he said.