Defense lawmakers plead for bipartisan solution to avert sequestration cuts

Defense lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on Monday pleaded with congressional leaders to put party politics aside and come together to reach a viable solution to avoid devastating national security budget cuts under sequestration. 

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare MORE (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDisconnect: Trump, GOP not on same page GOP senator: There will never be full U.S.-Mexico border wall Overnight Tech: Dem wants to see FCC chief's net neutrality plans | New agency panel on telecom diversity | Trump calls NASA astronaut MORE (R-Ky.), several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee reiterated their commitment to forging an alternative sequestration plan. 

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"We are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy," Sens. Carl LevinCarl LevinFor the sake of American taxpayers, companies must pay their fair share What the Iran-Contra investigation can teach us about Russia probe Senate about to enter 'nuclear option' death spiral MORE (D-Mich.) and John McCainJohn McCainBottom Line Beyond Manafort: Both parties deal with pro-Russian Ukrainians With help from US, transformative change in Iran is within reach MORE (R-Ariz.), the committee's chairman and ranking member, wrote in the letter. 

Panel members Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGOP senator: There will never be full U.S.-Mexico border wall The Hill's 12:30 Report Russian interference looms over European elections MORE (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenRussian interference looms over European elections Restore funding to United Nations Population Fund Senators urge Tillerson to meet with Russian opposition activists MORE (D-N.H.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDem senators ask Bannon for more info about Breitbart contact Senate Dems want Trump to release ethics waivers, visitor logs Senators offer bill to boost police training in cyber crime MORE (D-R.I.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteBottom Line How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch MORE (R-N.H.) also signed the letter to Senate leaders. 

Earlier this year, Ayotte floated the idea of creating a series of House-Senate working groups as a bicameral and bipartisan way to help tackle the sequestration issue. 

Lawmakers have a little over three months to come up with a plan to stave off roughly $1.2 billion in automatic budget cuts to domestic and national security funding under the sequestration plan, part of last year's debt-ceiling deal reached between the White House and Capitol Hill. 

The automatic cuts were intended to spur Congress to come up with its own plan to trim $1.2 billion from the national deficit. But the failure of a congressional supercommittee to reach a compromise on the deficit earlier this year triggered the automatic cuts. 

The more than $500 billion in across-the-board reductions for national security, scheduled to hit in January, will almost exclusively be pulled from the Pentagon's coffers.   

The budget cuts under sequestration "will endanger the lives of America's service members, threaten our national security, and impact vital domestic programs and services," according to the letter. 

Avoiding the cuts "will require real compromise," the senators wrote, adding that "all ideas should be put on the table" and forwarded to the White House's Office of Management and Budget, as well as the Joint Committee on Taxation for review. 

"We do not believe that Congress and the president can afford to wait until January to begin to develop a short term or long term sequestration alternative," they added.

While time is running out for Congress to come up with an alternative sequestration plan, lawmakers remain deeply divided along partisan lines on what the best course of action should be.

Congressional Democrats have argued for months that tax increases must be part of any realistic strategy to generate the $1.2 billion needed to spare the Defense Department and other government agencies from sequestration. 

In May, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) led a block of House Democrats in proposing an alternative sequester plan implementing cuts to government farm subsidies and ending federal payouts to oil companies as a way to pay for the Pentagon's portion of sequestration. 

Republicans in both chambers, however, dug in against the Van Hollen plan and have balked against revenue increases in general, arguing that additional cuts to social welfare programs could be enough to offset the defense and non-defense cuts under sequestration. 

House GOP members rammed through their own sequestration plan in May, calling for sharp cuts to the federal food stamps and national school lunch programs, and limits on Medicaid payments to pay for the defense budget cuts. 

That same month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the House GOP plan was a recipe for "confrontation [and] gridlock" that will only make automatic defense cuts more likely to happen. 

The House approved the measure by a party-line vote of 233-183, but Reid has refused to let the proposal come to the Senate floor for a vote.