WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats rejected a Republican effort to force defense contractors to send out notices of possible job layoffs four days before the election, calling the move politically driven and purely speculative based on looming spending cuts.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 17-13 against an amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. The provision would have overturned Labor Department guidance this week to federal contractors that they do not have to warn their employees about potential layoffs from the automatic, across-the-board cuts that kick in Jan. 2.
A 1980s law, known as the WARN Act, says those notices would have to go out 60 days in advance of the cuts, which would put them in workers’ mailboxes four days before the Nov. 6 election.
The guidance letter said it would be “inappropriate” for employers to send such warnings because it remains speculative if and where the $110 billion in automatic cuts might occur. About half the cuts would be in defense.
President Obama and congressional Republicans agreed last summer to a deficit-cutting bill that includes a mechanism that would trigger across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic programs totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
Ratcheting up the political pressure, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and fellow Republicans have accused Obama of shirking his duty as commander in chief by failing to negotiate with Congress on a way to avoid the cuts. Democrats counter that Republicans, who voted for the cuts, must consider higher taxes on the wealthy as part of an alternative to the reductions.
Questioned about that idea, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama “believes that if Republican leaders were to tell him that they were ready to support the basic principles that we need to address our fiscal challenges in a balanced way, then we could move forward with a plan for deficit reduction that doesn’t just cut spending, doesn’t just reform entitlements, but also asks everyone to pay their fair share.”
“We could get this done very quickly,” Carney said.
Adding to the political recriminations is the possibility that major defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. would notify its 120,000 employees of possible cuts the Friday before the election, effectively giving it a say in the outcome of the presidential race and congressional contests.
The White House fears this could hurt Obama’s re-election chances in states with heavy concentrations of defense workers, such as Virginia.
Graham and two other Republican senators — McCain and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — spent two days this week in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire, warning voters of job losses from the automatic cuts.