GOP revives alternative sequester plan

House and Senate Republican defense hawks are reviving a proposal to avoid the first year of sequestration cuts by reducing the size of the federal workforce, which they introduced Wednesday as they blasted President Obama’s efforts.

The Republican lawmakers, who gathered for a joint press conference Wednesday, said their plan was the path of least resistance to avoid the $45 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that Pentagon leaders say would devastate the military.

The GOP hawks also urged lawmakers in their own party who have said in recent weeks that they would allow sequestration to occur to reconsider their position.

But they also said the president’s call for new revenues in a short-term deal was a non-starter after he just got $600 billion in tax increases, a tack that Republicans of all stripes have taken since Obama called for a short-term fix Tuesday.

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“I visited with our top leaders and they have told me we have gone past cutting the fat. We've gone past cutting the meat. We're into the bone,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).

“It's time for the president to face up to what the real responsibility is, what the real problem is, and that's to look at mandatory spending.”

The one-year delay, which is being spearheaded by McKeon and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), was a plan that was “as painless as possible to protect our troops,” McKeon said.

The legislation would reverse the $85 billion in sequester cuts still on the books after the two-month delay that was included in the “fiscal cliff” deal. The funds would be offset by cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent over the next decade through attrition, by hiring back one worker for every three who leave.

The bill would also include a congressional pay freeze.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.,) Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ayotte joined with McKeon and Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) at the press conference to introduce the plan.

A similar proposal was introduced in both the House and Senate in the last Congress, but it went nowhere in either chamber during an election year.

The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), suggested Wednesday the idea still did not have the support of Democrats.

“The federal workforce are the people that help get out Social Security checks, the people who help process Medicare claims, they’re the FBI,” Van Hollen told The Hill when asked about the proposal. “Those are people who provide important services.”

With sequestration set to take effect March 1, a growing number of lawmakers have said it appears the cuts were not going to be stopped. Obama called on Congress to pass a short-term fix on Tuesday, and his top aides met with executives from top defense contractors Wednesday.

Republicans responded by blasting the president’s proposal, which included a call for more tax increases, as not serious.

Ayotte said the GOP lawmakers were hopeful that their alternative to the sequester would attract support from congressional leaders, saying there was “real urgency here.”

“I think we're in a different place,” she said. “People understand that there are grave implications to this, and so I would hope that the leadership would hear from them and view this as a very legitimate proposal that addresses this issue.”

Graham also took a shot at Republicans who are saying that sequester is the best way to achieve real spending cuts, arguing they were as bad as the president on the issue.

“We have our fingerprints as Republicans on this proposal, on this sequestration idea,” Graham said.

“To my Republican colleagues, after this hearing that Buck's going to have, if you feel comfortable with cutting the government this way, then you've lost your way as much as the president,” Graham said, referring to a House Armed Services hearing where the Joint Chiefs will testify about the dangers of sequester to the military.

McKeon took a more diplomatic tack toward members of his own party who want to let the sequester happen, saying that fiscal conservatives and defense hawks shared the same goal of deficit reduction.

“There's plenty of things to fight about,” McKeon said. “I think some of the differences I have with some of my Republican friends is — we're not that far apart. We all want to fix the deficit problem.”