Senate appropriators sink GOP plan to mandate layoff notices

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), was defeated 17-13 by the committee in a straight party-line vote. 

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If approved, Graham's measure would have been folded into the committee's version of the Pentagon's fiscal 2013 defense spending bill. Members of the committee's Defense subpanel approved a draft version of the spending legislation on Monday. 

Specifically, the Graham amendment would have forced defense companies to begin handing out pink slips in November, under federal mandates outlined in the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. 

But administration officials from the Department of Labor have argued that such notices did not fall under the act's mandates. The law only required notices to be sent out if layoffs are caused by a foreseeable event. 

Since Congress technically still has five months to come up with an alternative sequestration plan before the defense cuts go into effect in January, issuing notices due to sequestration would not be a so-called foreseeable event, according to the Obama administration. 

Issuing layoff notices before Congress comes up with a plan for sequestration "would be inappropriate, given the lack of certainty about how the budget cuts will be implemented and the possibility that the sequester will be avoided before January,” the Labor Department said in a guidance letter issued Monday.

Graham argued that allowing individual defense firms to decide whether or not to issue layoff notices would only add to the growing fiscal uncertainty within the defense industry over sequestration. 

Further, the South Carolina Republican sought to void the Labor Department's guidance as part of his failed amendment. 

Top industry officials have said publicly that defense cuts under sequestration could lead to the loss of 1 million defense-related jobs across the entire defense sector. 

Industry leaders and their supporters in Congress say those job losses would hit key battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida particularly hard. 

During the Wednesday's markup hearing, committee member Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) slammed the Graham amendment as a blatant political ploy, designed to use the threat of job losses as a "political football" in the runup to the presidential elections in November. 

Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) called the measure an "unnecessary modification" to the WARN Act for merely political purposes. 

Despite the defeat, Graham implored Senate Democrats to delve into the tough, bipartisan work needed to avoid sequestration. 

In recent weeks, Graham has been among a handful of GOP senators who have indicated a willingness to break with the party's stance against tax increases to avoid sequestration. 

Democrats in both chambers have been adamant that any compromise on sequestration must include revenue increases or elimination of tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans. 

Republican lawmakers, though, have been reluctant to back efforts to allow the Bush-era tax cuts or other proposed changes to the tax code. 

On Wednesday, Graham openly questioned the feasibility of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge from Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist signed by many congressional Republicans. 

The pledge opposes any and all tax increases for individuals and businesses, as well as any reductions in tax credits without matching reductions in tax rates. 

"This pledge has ... components that need to be revisited," Graham said in light of the looming national security crisis posed by sequestration. 

But Graham acknowledged the politically tenuous position his stance on revenue increases has put him and other Republicans in. 

"Some people can't go where I want to go," he said. "[But] if we can pull this off ... there is a glimmer of hope" that lawmakers will be able to come together to avoid sequestration.