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Sen. Graham: Contractors should issue layoff notices before election

TAMPA, Fla. -- South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) called on government contractors to put employees on layoff notice before November's election as a way to pressure Congress to address the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Graham, joined by Republican Sens. John McCain (AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (NH), were in Florida for their first stop on a  two-day, four-state tour by these three members of the Senate Armed Services Committee designed to bring attention to the $500 billion in automatic cuts scheduled to begin in January if Congress does not find other ways to cut spending.

“Politicians, you know, quite frankly respond to pressure,” Graham said about the  cuts set to begin in 2013 under the so-called sequestration budget.

“I’m urging every defense industry that could be affected by sequestration to put your employees on notice before November,” he continued. “The more it becomes real to us as to what comes the nation’s way, the more likely we are to solve the problem.”

Graham delivered the remarks inside a University of South Florida auditorium here in Tampa this morning to an audience of military veterans, academics, and defense contractors.

Some in the audience were linked to nearby MacDill Air Force base, a sprawling installation housing the U.S. Central Command, the organization that oversees America’s military activity in the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There is gridlock in Washington,” McCain said as he warmed the crowd shortly after taking the podium. “I don’t need to tell you that.  It’s hard these days, trying to do the Lord’s work in the city of Satan.”

The line won laughs, but much of the humor today was strictly of the gallows variety.

Before the event began, audience members mingled and expressed satisfaction that South Florida’s defense industry was being recognized.

“I think they’re playing politics with peoples’ lives,” Donna S. Huneycutt, the executive vice president of a small government consulting firm, said of Congress in an interview. 

Huneycutt said she has a staff of 62 people, and nearly had to lay people off last year as a result of earlier budget cuts.

“I’d like to see both sides come to the table and compromise,” she said.

McCain, Graham, and Ayotte called for a bipartisan solution to the crisis.

They signaled they would break with other Republicans and would accept closing loopholes in the tax code in return for concessions from Democrats, including cuts to entitlement programs.

“We shouldn’t put our troops in this position,” Ayotte said. “We shouldn’t put our military feeling like they have the sword of Damocles hanging over their head.”

Ayotte, the wife of a retired Air National Guard pilot who flew combat missions over Iraq, is a buzzed-about prospect for the number-two slot on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s ticket and is rumored to be on his short list.

The town hall tour was scheduled to make stops later today in Fayetteville, NC and Norfolk, VA – also home to key military communities.

The tour will wrap Tuesday morning in Merrimack, NH at a facility for the defense contractor BAE Systems.