Senators nearing deal to demand answers on sequestration impact

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are putting the finishing touches on a bipartisan deal requiring the Obama administration to explain the impact of sequestration cuts in the next two months.

The two senators had separate amendments included in the farm bill on the Senate floor this week dealing with the automatic spending cuts, with McCain’s requiring a Pentagon report on the $500 billion in defense cuts through sequestration and Murray’s calling for an Office of Management and Budget report on the cuts to non-defense spending.

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Now they plan to combine the two amendments requiring reports from the administration on all of sequestration.

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McCain told reporters Thursday that they had come to an agreement that would be adopted today into the farm bill.

The deal for reporting requirements is one step forward for creating bipartisan support on changing sequestration; Democrats and Republicans both want the cuts to be avoided but have deep disagreements about how to do so.

The deal would require a report from the Pentagon on the defense cuts by Aug. 15 and reports from the Office of Management and Budget and the president in the next 30 to 60 days explaining the full spectrum of sequestration, according to congressional aides. The final details were still being sorted out Thursday.

For Democrats, combining the defense and non-defense reports helps keep all of sequestration together so that a potential deal to reverse the cuts would reverse all of them, and not just defense.

Republicans, meanwhile, have called for the report because they want the Pentagon to explain in detail the impact of the cuts, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has repeatedly called “devastating,” among other colorful adjectives.

Defense hawks in Congress believe the report will help create public support for the defense cuts, which would be about $50 billion per year for a decade, to be shuttered.

McCain said he would attach his amendment to every piece of legislation on the floor — it’s possible that the deal could wind up added to another bill if it’s likely to pass sooner.