Bicameral, Bipartisan Working Groups to Tackle Sequestration

Senate Republicans are floating the idea of establishing House-Senate working groups as a way to forge a compromise plan to avoid massive defense budget cuts in the coming year.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH.) said that forming the bipartisan working groups would be a critical piece in getting lawmakers in both chambers on the same page regarding the automatic defense cuts under sequestration.

On Friday, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA) said the idea of the working groups has also been informally discussed among Democrats in both chambers, including by Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin (D-MI). 

Ayotte's office has discussed the idea with Levin and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the Senate Defense committee's ranking member, in recent weeks, according to a Senate Republican aide, but the office was still in the midst of gauging support for the measure and had yet to lay out any concrete plans for the working groups. A group of 15 to 30 senators has been drafting sequestration alternatives behind closed doors for the past month, but those talks have largely remained on the Democrat-controlled Senate side.

Bringing in House members via the working groups could hasten those informal Senate talks into a tangible, bipartisan solution that can be brought to the White House. However, according to Smith, excessive cuts to social welfare programs to spare defense expenditures are off the table. If these House-Senate working groups do become reality, Smith said that his position and that of other House Democrats will not change.

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