(T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg)

The White House Thursday objected to a provision Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) added to the Senate’s Defense Authorization bill calling for a specific level of spending cuts for the Defense Department’s civilian workers and contractors.

The measure as it stands would require the Defense Department to cut 5 percent from its funding for contractors and civilian workers over a five-year period to match spending cuts planned for military personnel. 

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) proposed an amendment yesterday to eliminate the McCain provision, calling it “draconian” and saying the proposal would eliminate 36,000 civilian jobs and tens of thousands of Defense contractor jobs between 2013 and 2017.

The White House Office of Management and Budget released a statement saying the McCain provision would force the Defense Department to “significantly divest workload and impose workforce caps,” adding that the size of the civilian workforce should not be determined by “arbitrary comparisons to the military.”

The White House statement objected to multiple provisions in the Senate’s Defense Authorization bill, including proposals to limit the purchase of alternative fuels and restrict funding for transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. 

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers defended McCain’s provision, noting that the Senate armed services committee unanimously approved the overall personnel-reduction strategy and that the proposed reduction matches the Defense Department’s planned cuts for military personnel.

“Sen. McCain believes that, with the country facing a devastating fiscal cliff, huge annual deficits and rising federal debt, and with our military personnel deployed overseas in harm’s way, the civilian workforce can absorb a modest reduction as a reasonable cost-cutting and efficiency measure,” Rogers said.

(Jose Luis Magana/AP) Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

Cardin said his amendment, which is co-sponsored by seven other Senate Democrats, calls for the Secretary of Defense to be “consistent with longstanding law that ensures the civilian workforce is ‘sufficiently sized’ after taking into account military strategy requirements and military end-strength.”

“A slash-and-burn approach to downsizing the civilian and contractor workforce is contrary to current law and runs the risk of undermining our military mission and national security,” Cardin said in a statement.

The American Federation of Government Employees today released a statement supporting Cardin’s amendment. 

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