That's the advice Republican Buck McKeon has for the defense industry. McKeon is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The advice he's telling defense corporations to ignore has to do with a Labor Department memo regarding layoff notices that some of those corporations have threatened to send to tens of thousands of their workers four days before the Nov. 6 elections.
The issue is sequestration, the horror-child offspring of last August's budget deal. The deal set up a bipartisan Super Committee to come up with $1.5 trillion in budget cuts. If it couldn't, sequestration would occur. That is, the budget authority over nine years would be cut by $1.2 trillion, half from defense, half from non-defense spending. As many critics predicted, the Super Committee couldn't agree on balanced cuts, and sequestration will take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress intervenes with some new deal.
That intervention began five minutes after the deadlock was announced.
Republicans were quick to argue against the defense portion of the cuts. No surprise since their presumptive nominee for the presidency wants to raise the defense budget by at least $2.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Republicans led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan came up with the Sequester Replacement Act of 2012. It would eliminate the even split between defense and domestic cuts (and make even deeper cuts than the original budget deal of August 2011).
Since nobody knows whether sequestration will even occur, and if it does, which companies, much less which employees would be affected, it might be expected in a sane world that there would be a wait-and-see approach. But, no surprise, that's not how the game is played.
Enter Robert Stevens CEO of aircraft maker Lockheed-Martin, a company that took in nearly $32 billion for its work on Pentagon contracts in 2011 (plus $8 billion in other government contracts) and employs 120,000 employees. Stevens informed Congress that the company "might be required to lay off about 10,000 employees." And that would require 60-day advance notification under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. He also said the company would have to notify its 40,000 suppliers of the coming disruption to business.
But since we don't know exactly who will be affected, our best judgment is that we may have to notify a substantially higher number of our employees ... that they may not have a job if sequestration takes place."That's not the way the Labor Department views things. In its memo, the department states that blanket notices like those Lockheed proposes to send are out of line. For one thing, such notices must include very specific information, including the plant(s) that will be closed, the expected date of the first separation, and "the job titles of positions to be affected, and the number of affected employees in each job classification" and an indication of whether "bumping rights" will be allowed. Obviously, none of that can be included in such layoff notices. There is no reason to alarm workers about something that may not happen, the memo states.
Indeed. No surprise that the real purpose behind the notices is politics, a tool provided just in time for the election.
“To think that one of the agencies of the Obama administration would give guidance not to follow the law of the land—a judge would laugh at that,” McKeon told reporters.Democrats who went along with sequestration must have known what an idiotic idea it was in the first place. As if a bipartisan committee would operate as some latter-day deus ex machina to get them out of the bind they put themselves into. Experience ought to have taught them that Republicans would never agree to defense cuts, sequester or no sequester, and that the threat of such cuts would be used as an electioneering cudgel.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, disagreed. “This is an important and correct interpretation of the law,” he said in a statement. “There is no reason to needlessly alarm hundreds of thousands of workers.”
And that's where we are now, with Republicans encouraging defense companies to give the pfffffft to the Labor Department's directive on layoff notices. They know full well they will soon be on the campaign trail blaming the Obama administration for those notices hinting at layoffs that may not happen. One thing they aren't doing is suggesting layoff notices be sent by companies that will be affected if sequestration (or the GOP's proposal for a more draconian cut) goes forward on domestic spending.