Sens consider one-year delay on automatic cuts to military budget

Several senators on Tuesday said delaying automatic defense cuts for a year is the best option for a Congress looking to avoid steep spending reductions at the Pentagon.

“I do see that as a way forward,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said of a possible one-year stopgap measure during an Aerospace Industries Association-sponsored event on Tuesday.

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Speaking at the same event, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) agreed with her GOP counterpart, saying lawmakers “may need to do a short-term effort” on defense cuts under sequestration before tackling the entire 10-year plan.

Despite that stopgap, the New Hampshire Democrat emphasized the need for both parties to find an overarching, bipartisan alternative to sequestration. 

Hopes have about-faced on striking a larger, bipartisan deal before the November presidential elections as time has shortened and campaign rhetoric has grown heated.

Triggered by the failure of the so-called supercommittee to trim $1.2 billion from the federal deficit, the sequestration plan includes an across-the-board $500 billion cut to Pentagon coffers, spread across the next decade. The cuts would begin in January.

On Tuesday, AIA released a report claiming the cuts would result in the loss of 600,000 federal jobs. Another 1 million jobs across the defense sector would be scrapped if the automatic cuts go into effect in January.

Top defense industry officials are already preparing to issue termination notices to their workforces, in anticipation of the defense cuts going into effect.

Delaying those cuts would block notices from going out, and create some semblance of stability within the defense industry, according to Ayotte.

Ayotte, along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) have already drafted a plan to delay sequester by a year.

A group of House Republicans, led by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), have assembled a similar one-year stopgap plan.

Both plans would offset the scheduled cuts to defense programs for one year with drawdowns of the federal workforce, combined with spending reductions across all government coffers.

They argue the one-year reprieve would give Congress more time to come up with an alternative to sequestration.

Ayotte said she was “very optimistic” that a bipartisan House-Senate working group could be formed to come up with that alternative. Senators “are in discussions right now” over forming a working group, she said.

“A few [lawmakers] getting together ... can make a difference” Ayotte added.

However, the current impasse between Republicans and Democrats over including tax increases in any deal remains a difficult hurdle.

“You can't get there without revenue [increases] on the table,” Shaheen said Tuesday.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to “put aside these sacred cows” and get a deal done, Shaheen added.

“We need to send a signal [that] we are serious about addressing this issue,” she said. “It is doable [but] we need to get it done.”

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