By Alexander Bolton - 11/06/13 03:17 PM EST
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are bringing their "common-sense coalition" back together in hopes of laying the groundwork for fiscal reforms and other bipartisan legislation.
Collins, Manchin and their allies hope to form a bipartisan coalition that could help break ideological gridlock on issues such as the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
The group has added Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) — expanding to 16 members. Members of the group met Wednesday morning.
“Several of the members suggested that we get together and review what our future role should be,” said Collins. “There’s great interest in staying together and continuing to tackle issues particularly when the regular order breaks down around here.
“We’re going to continue to meet and that’s very positive,” she said.
Lawmakers are letting a bicameral budget conference headed by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) take the lead in negotiating a budget agreement for 2014.
If that effort falls short because of an impasse over tax increases, centrist senators are prepared to step into the debate.
“We’re going to continue to try to help find common-sense solutions to some of these issues,” said Sen. Angus King (Maine), the independent member of the group.
“We’re discussing what the purpose is but certainly we just want to contribute to solving some of these problems,” he said. “We feel like we did contribute before on the shutdown.
“We feel like our work was constructive and we want to see if we can continue to play that role,” he added.
Collins and Manchin convened a bipartisan group of 14 senators during last month’s government shutdown to help negotiate a deal to reopen federal agencies and raise the debt limit.
Their work set the stage for later talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) that resulted in an agreement staving off a national default.
Fourteen senators formed the coalition during the government shutdown when Reid, McConnell and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) were hardly talking to each other.
The Democratic members include Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), in addition to Manchin and Warner.
The Republican members also include Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Mike Johanns (Neb.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.).
Not all members attended the Wednesday morning meeting.
“I was unfortunately unable to meet but I’m certainly interested in meeting with them,” said Ayotte.
The group could invite other lawmakers, including Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), to sit in on their sessions.
“I go to all meetings. The more you expose yourself, the more you learn,” he said.