GOP Plans to Avoid Automatic Defense Cuts

Remember the failure of the debt-reduction supercommittee? Members of Congress do, too - and they are already looking for ways to avoid the devastating, across-the-board spending cuts that will kick in early next year.

Five Republican senators today announced a plan to replace the first year of automatic defense cuts, known as sequestration, because of the failure of the supercommittee to broker a deal late last year.

The "Down Payment to Protect National Security Act of 2012," plan would provide $127 billion in savings for this year through attrition, hiring two federal employees for every three that leave federal service and extending the current federal employee freeze which includes members of Congress for an additional year and a half.

As negotiated during the debt ceiling debate, the failure of the supercommittee to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts last November is set to trigger cuts starting in January 2013 in defense and domestic spending.  This plan announced today would replace the $110 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts for 2013 - for just one year.

"I believe the cuts that would be required by sequestration aimed at the Department of Defense are a threat to our nation's security and we are opposed to that draconian action," Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., told reporters today, "as is the secretary of defense and others."

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said that the impacts of these automatic across-the-board sequestration cuts would be "devastating" for the department.

"[Panetta] either needs to be fired because he's so off base or we need to listen to him and fix the problem," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

"We still live in a very dangerous world and everyone agrees that this kind of sequestration cannot take place," McCain said.

"Allowing this sequestration to occur is one of the most dangerous and irresponsible political decisions that have been made around here in memory," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., "so I'm calling on the president of the United States, as commander in chief of this country, to join us in this effort to make sure that we don't go down this road and allow our national defense to be undermined."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., today responded, ruling out the attempt to undo or avoid the sequester cuts, and called what the Republicans proposed today "unfair."

"I believe an agreement is an agreement," Reid said. "I believe that a handshake is a handshake. And we have more than a handshake. We have a law that is now in place in our country that tells how we are going to deal with defense spending and military spending. They should keep their word. That is what the American people expect them to do and that is what I expect them to do."