The GOP’s plan to spare defense, target federal workers

at 05:11 PM ET, 02/02/2012

Even before the supercommittee’s demise, John McCain vowed to nullify the cuts to defense spending that would automatically go into effect if the group couldn’t come to a deal. Thursday, McCain took the next step toward making good on that promise.
(Getty Images)

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.

That said, even if the bill passed, it would still leave about $491 billion in triggered defense cuts that would begin in 2014. Why undo the cuts for only one year, instead of the full decade? It’s probably that finding an additional $491 billion in offsets would be politically difficult, and proceeding without them would mean increasing the deficit by nearly half a trillion dollars. So eliminating one year of cuts would at least buy them more time.

Republicans have repeatedly proposed similar cuts to the federal workforce, but they now have a new justification. Earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office released a study showing that federal employees, on average, were paid about 2 percent more than their private-sector counterparts — and 16 percent more when you factor in benefits, which are 48 percent greater than those for comparable workers in the private sector.

In their news release for Thursday’s bill, the senators behind the bill — McCain, Kyl, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and Marco Rubio — touted the CBO’s recent findings and concluded that federal workers were overpaid. “During a time of persistent unemployment, stagnant economic growth, and record deficits, it’s inexcusable that federal employees are being compensated so much more than the taxpayers in the private sector who subsidize those federal benefits” they wrote.

On Wednesday, the House similarly voted to continue the federal workers pay freeze through 2013, though it was unattached to any other legislation. By contrast, President Obama is planning to propose a 0.5 percent increase in federal workers’ pay in his 2013 budget, after the conclusion of a two-year pay freeze he announced in 2010.

 
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