A little-known labor law could roil the presidential race the day before Election Day unless Congress and the White House OK an emergency deal to avoid some $500 billion-$600 billion in Pentagon cuts that will kill over 1 million jobs within two years.
Should there be no deal, which is expected since the administration is pushing off hard budget talks until after the election, the "Warn Act' will force major defense firms to send out warnings to millions of workers who could face layoffs under the so-called budget sequester. The latest they would show up: November 6, one day before Election Day, and the required 60-days before the cuts would kick in on January 2.
"I wouldn't want to be in a district and up for reelection," said New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is taking a lead role in pushing for a pre-election deal.
"I see this is a sleeper issue in the presidential race," added Ayotte, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I would think that our president, the commander-in-chief, would not have an interest in having all these Warn Act notices coming out before the election."
Some companies told Secrets that they are already laying off workers while others are drafting layoff notices. Ayotte said Lockheed Martin has a list of 100,000. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that over 1 million jobs will be cut in 2014 if the budget sequester goes into effect.
Ayotte is trying to help the military pressure Congress and the White House to act. She said that members are starting to get the message but she said that President Obama's budget shop plans to wait until after the election to push the issue. "That's a little too cute," she said. Her plan is to hold off the cuts for a year by reducing federal hiring while working on a larger budget agreement.
She also isn't getting help from the Pentagon on her wish for a line-by-line reduction plan that she could distribute to lawmakers to show just how bad their states would get hit in job losses. She helped push through and amendment to the Farm Bill requiring the line-by-line plan and on Tuesday told industry officials at a conference organized by TechAmerica that she would try to add it to every piece of legislation the Senate considers.
Ayotte is said to be on Mitt Romney's vice presidential list and she is one of the few on it with an interest in defense, an added plus. In 1988, former Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle caught George H.W. Bush's eye with his leadership on nuclear defense issues. Bush picked him as his vice presidential nominee.
Several analysts at the TechAmerica event said that the cuts, which come on another $487 billion agreed to last year, would gut the military and clear the way for China to become the world's military power.