House Defense Panel Chief Proposes to Avoid Automatic Cuts

The chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee is seeking to avert about $55 billion in defense budget cuts in 2013 by reducing the federal workforce.

Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican, introduced legislation today to reduce federal employment by 10 percent over 10 years by hiring one federal employee for every three who retire.

The Defense Department faces cuts of as much as $1 trillion over the next decade after lawmakers on a bipartisan deficit-reduction panel in November said they were deadlocked on how to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.

The Pentagon already is cutting about $490 billion from its budget over the next 10 years under the budget control act President Barack Obama signed into law Aug. 2. The same measure created the supercommittee.

The deficit panel’s failure to reach an agreement is supposed to automatically increase the defense cuts by an additional $500 billion, excluding interest savings, starting in January 2013.

The prospect of automatic cuts “forces us to break faith with the men and women who have been at war for a decade now,” McKeon said in a statement today. “ We can and should have a national conversation about our role in the world and how our military is configured. That conversation should come before we cut the budget, not after.”

Obama last month said he would oppose efforts to find ways around automatic reductions triggered by the supercommittee’s failure.

Employee Attrition

McKeon’s plan is designed to save $127 billion through employee attrition. The lawmaker proposed using $55 billion to avert automatic Pentagon cuts in 2013, another $55 billion to avoid a year’s worth of required cuts in non-defense domestic spending, and $17 billion for deficit reduction.

“The coming political year is likely to be marked with gamesmanship and brinksmanship,” McKeon said. “My bill gives Congress a shot at statesmanship. Over half of the deficit reduction efforts to date have come out of the military.”

Four Senate Republicans today also announced that they would introduce legislation in January to avert the automatic defense cuts. Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire didn’t offer details of the legislation.

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the proposal would include efforts to “improve efficiencies in defense spending.”

Kyl said the group will seek to find budget savings identified during a round of talks earlier this year with Vice President Joe Biden and the supercommittee. Lawmakers will “package those savings into tranches of spending reductions that can then offset” the required automatic cuts, according to Kyl.

-- Editors: Bob Drummond, Justin Blum

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