The fight over the automatic trigger cuts, which will take place at the end of the year without Congressional action, took an interesting turn this week. The Senate passed a bill that will force the Obama Administration to provide details on how they will implement the cuts. This bill has already passed the House with a broad majority, and the President has indicated that he will sign it. But politically, it puts him – and Congress – in some trouble.
“Everyone should understand that sequestration is a terrible way to cut spending, so I am hopeful that the more information my colleagues receive about its impact, the more they will be willing to move off their partisan positions and work with us toward a balanced and bipartisan replacement,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, who drafted similar legislation with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.
“The president owes it to our forces around the world and to their families to put a plan on the table for all to see now, rather than waiting until after the November elections pass,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said last week.
As Dave Weigel notes, this will be spun as Obama’s job cuts, particularly when applied to the defense sector. Both parties voted for the Budget Control Act, which created the process that led to these cuts. But the name on the masthead of the plan for the cuts will be the Office of Management and Budget, and Republicans in particular will act like the directive comes entirely from them, rather than an agreed-to process voted on and passed by Congress.
Moreover, to comply with a separate Congressional law, layoff notices must be given 60 days prior to any federal employee personnel cuts. That means that four days before the election, a bunch of workers in the Pentagon and throughout government, including a large segment working in the swing state of Virginia, are likely to get a pink slip.
Tens of thousands of civilian employees in the Defense Department could receive warnings about potential layoffs four days before the November election if impending spending cuts aren’t averted, hitting presidential battleground states such as Virginia and Florida hard.
The alerts would come in addition to any that major defense contractors might send out at the same time to their workers under an often-overlooked law, a prospect that is unnerving the White House roughly three months before voters go to the polls.
Frederick Vollrath, a senior Pentagon official, outlined the timeline for notification of possibly 10 percent of the 800,000-strong civilian workforce in testimony Thursday before a House panel. He cautioned, however, that no decision has been made on job cuts as Washington grapples with the looming, $1.2 trillion automatic reductions in defense and domestic programs.
Florida is mentioned because of the high concentration of military bases, which is also true of North Carolina.
But now the decision will have to be laid out in paper by OMB. And Republicans will seize on the layoff notices, based on an OMB document, to show that the economy is in the toilet (even though this is based on deficit reduction demanded by their party). This isn’t an October surprise, but it will be treated that way.
Nancy Pelosi devised a fairly novel way out, by using the higher-end Bush tax cuts to pay to cancel the sequester. But there’s little chance of that happening before November 2, when the layoff notices would have to go out.