Who To Watch on Capitol Hill During the Sequestration Fight

Stacy Kaper and Amy Harder

With the across-the-board sequester cuts scheduled to kick in on Friday, congressional leaders in both parties are already confronting the political consequences of the anticipated impact. But before the week is up, lawmakers could find that holding fast is politically untenable. Here are five leadership staffers critical to developing the policy proposals and political strategy of the sequestration battle.

Mike Spahn, chief of staff for Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

As a member of the Senate Democratic leadership and chairwoman of the Budget Committee, Murray is a major player in the sequestration fight. As chief of staff, Spahn has been a close adviser to Murray and in the thick of all the major spending battles over the past few years. He is particularly attuned to the politics of the issue du jour and is responsible for mapping out strategy, briefing the caucus, and negotiating across the aisle when appropriate. Spahn first started running Murray’s communications shop in 2004 and then served as an aide on floor operations for both Murray and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill. He was promoted to staff director for Murray’s leadership post in the Office of the Democratic Conference Secretary when she was elected to it in 2007. He moved over as chief of staff of her personal office just as the 112th Congress was gearing up. Spahn is known as a steady guide in everything Murray’s involved with and benefits from working hand-in-hand with her Budget and Appropriations staffers in an integrated office. Spahn is influential to her sequester-messaging strategy and will be heavily involved in the budget and spending battles yet to come.

Brett Loper, deputy chief of staff, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Loper was promoted from policy director to deputy chief of staff last fall, but he still very much wears the policy hat within the Boehner operation. In this role, he melds the policy side of the sequestration battle with the politics and strategy side, which is led by Mike Sommers, Boehner’s chief of staff. “Given he [Loper] has extensive experience on tax and appropriations issues, he’s the guy who rolls up his sleeves and goes into the negotiations,” said a former House GOP leadership aide who knows Loper. “Then he confers with Mike [Sommers] and Boehner and others.” Loper was deputy chief of staff for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and later was minority staff director for the Ways and Means Committee under then-Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La.

Rohit Kumar, deputy chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

With House GOP leadership taking a backseat in the sequestration battle, McConnell is becoming increasingly important. That holds true for his top aide on the matter, Kumar, who was instrumental in the eleventh-hour deal that McConnell struck with Vice President Joe Biden to avert the fiscal cliff late last year. Any additional Biden-McConnell deal-making would put Kumar back into the forefront. “Many in town think that might be the pathway for future deals,” said a financial-services executive who knows Kumar. “He [Kumar] is an extremely prominent player in the context of that avenue,” the source added, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. Kumar has held top policy positions for two other Senate Republican leaders: former Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi and Bill Frist of Tennessee.

David Krone, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

As Reid’s focus on sequester-related issues continues to ratchet up, so will Krone’s. Krone is known as a hard-nosed negotiator who has the complete trust of Reid, and enjoys a close personal relationship with his boss. He was empowered by the majority leader in 2011 to negotiate on the debt ceiling on his behalf with Boehner’s then-chief of staff Barry Jackson. Since then, Krone has spent a good deal of time on budget and tax issues given the ensuing spending battles, and he keeps tabs on what is going on both across the aisle and across the Capitol. He joined Reid’s office shortly after the 2008 elections. First hired as a senior consultant, Krone quickly was promoted to chief of staff.

Neil Bradley, deputy chief of staff for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Bradley has been Cantor’s right-hand man through all the fiscal negotiations in the last Congress, and this time around it’s no different. “He knows the policy inside and out, which makes him so valuable,” said Laena Fallon, who recently left Cantor’s office as communications director. “He doesn’t come at it from an overly political perspective. He comes at it from the angle of trying to get the policy right.” Bradley spent more than five years as policy director for Cantor and former House whip and now-Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Over the last few years, Bradley has played the key role of representing all House Republicans on policy development and ensuring the policy is done right amid the politics.

Hot Seats is a weekly series highlighting significant staff positions in the 113th Congress. To suggest a position or staffer for the list, please tweet to @NJLeadership or e-mail Managing Editor Kristin Roberts at kroberts@nationaljournal.com.