WASHINGTON — Working with a heightened sense of urgency, Sen. Jim Inhofe and other Republican defense hawks on Wednesday proposed that the federal government cut its workforce over the next decade to eliminate the need for deep cuts to the military this year.
Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said President Barack Obama's proposal on Tuesday to replace the looming cuts with a combination of spending reductions and new tax revenue was “a non-starter.”
And though he called the situation “desperate” — with the military warning of widespread furloughs and training and maintenance cutbacks — Inhofe said, “It's not desperate enough that you start raising taxes when you can do it without raising taxes.”
As a result of the debt ceiling deal of 2011, a total of $1.2 trillion in cuts, spread out over 10 years, are set to be triggered in March. The Defense Department will bear about half the burden, and Pentagon leaders have been warning for months about the potential effect.
The GOP proposal, introduced in the House and Senate, would allow government agencies to hire one person for every three that leave through attrition; congressional pay would also be frozen.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said the bill would save $85 billion over 10 years, enough to replace this year's share of the automatic cuts, known as the sequester.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the federal government was on pace to spend $47 trillion over the next 10 years. The question, he said, was whether Congress could cut $1.2 trillion over that period “without destroying the Defense Department.”
Some of Obama's top aides met at the White House on Wednesday with leaders from several defense contractors.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the “focus of the conversation was the potential devastating impacts of the sequester going into effect.”
But Carney insisted that legislation to replace the automatic cuts had to include new tax revenue, saying “it cannot be spending cuts alone.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of outside groups, including Taxpayers for Common Sense and Americans for Tax Reform, sent a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday arguing that the Pentagon could absorb the cuts.
“Consensus exists among civilian and military experts that (the Defense Department) can absorb at least sequestration levels of spending cuts while retaining a robust force to meet the nation's security needs,” the letter states.
“The bottom line is that sequestration will not weaken our military and should only be the first step in realigning the Pentagon's priorities.”
But Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said top military leaders will testify next week about the specific cuts they'll have to make.
“When the American people find that out, there's going to be some real change,” he said.