Six Republican Senators unveiled their legislation yesterday to roll back the defense trigger from the debt limit deal, replacing the $600 billion in savings with other cuts. However, this is not a $600 billion deal; in fact, the Senators, led by John McCain, only delayed the first year of defense cuts at a cost of $109 billion. They achieved this through pay freezes and cuts to federal employees. Considering that members of the military are also federal employees, you’re basically sparing one set of federal employees for another.
Together with five other Republican senators — including minority whip Jon Kyl, a member of the dissolved supercommittee — McCain unveiled a bill to eliminate the triggered defense cuts for a year. The legislation would replace the $109 billion in cuts that are scheduled to happen in 2013 with cuts to the federal workforce instead: It extends the federal employee pay freeze through June 2014 and “restricts federal hiring to only two employees for every three leaving, until the size of the federal government workforce is reduced by five percent,” which is expected to save $127 billion within 10 years.
The Senators are banking on a recent CBO study showing that federal workers make more than private sector workers. This is a dubious study for a variety of reasons (it’s more true at the low end than the high end, for example). But the bigger problem for the McCain gang is that this is a pay-for that Republicans in the House want to use to offset the payroll tax cut. And you can’t use it twice. Similarly, the House voted earlier in the week to extend the federal pay freeze, a key part of this option. So someone over there has to figure out what attaches to what.
The GOP leadership does appear to be on board with breaking the debt limit deal, at least on the defense cuts. But this isn’t going to get resolved until this year’s lame duck session, in all likelihood.