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GOP senators debut plan to prevent automatic defense cuts


A group of hawkish Senate Republicans announced their plan Thursday to prevent automatic defense cuts mandated by last summer's debt ceiling agreement, which are set to take effect in 2013.

Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a group of Republicans in detailing their plan to prevent a planned $110 billion from the 2013 defense budget by offering other offsetting cuts.

"It's time for the president to lead and accept his responsibilities as commander-in-chief and work with us to enact a plan that will reduce our debt and maintain our military preparedness," McCain said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

The automatic cuts were contained in last summer's agreement to raise the nation's debt limit. The automatic defense cuts were included as an incentive for Republican members of the supercommittee -- the bipartisan panel charged with identifying $1.2 trillion in savings from the budget over the next 10 years -- to reach an agreement.

But the supercommittee failed, and now, Republicans are trying to undo the defense cuts -- the so-called "sequester" -- by offering different savings. McCain, joined by Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (AZ), John Cornyn (TX), Kelly Ayotte (NH) and Lindsey Graham (SC), offered a plan that would replace $110 billion of planned defense and non-defense cuts, and find an additional $17 billion in savings, by freezing federal salaries through mid-2014, and squeezing the federal workforce by 5 percent through attrition. For every three federal employees who leave, only two would be hired to replace them.

Kyl said he hoped Democrats would support these ideas because they won't see cuts to social programs and have previously supported pay freezes and attrition in parts of the government. Kyl also pushed back on any suggestion that Republicans are hypocritical for being "pro-jobs" while pushing for job cuts in the federal government.

"We're not laying anybody off, we're not proposing to fire anybody," Kyl said.

And House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) lended his voice to the fight, questioning the Obama administration's involvement on the issue.

"The defense portion of the sequester, in my view, would clearly hollow our military," Boehner said at his weekly press conference, "The question I would pose is where's the White House? Where's the leadership that should be there to ensure that this sequester does not go into effect?"

That lack of effort by the administration to undo the sequestered stems from President Obama's stiff veto threat of any effort to undo the automatic cuts unless a balanced, comprehensive deal could be reached.

"Already some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending," the president said on Nov. 21. “There will be no easy off-ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure."

But perhaps as a bit of foreshadowing of the impending fight over the automatic cuts, a group of 127 Democrats signed a letter to the president urging him against bowing to pressure and find other savings to replace the defense cuts.

"We stand ready to work with you over the next year to put America back on a firm financial footing and will vote to sustain your veto of any effort to repeal all or part of the scheduled sequester," the letter reads.

NBC's Frank Thorp contributed.