By Damian Paletta
Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Mark Warner said Monday they would introduce legislation early next year that mirrors the recent report by the White House's debt-reduction panel, in an effort to promote a conversation on the country's fiscal problems.
The senators said they would push for an ambitious time frame for tackling the problems and want an agreement in place by the end of next year. They believe if an agreement can be reached in 2011, it won't be overshadowed in the 2012 presidential-election cycle.
Government spending and the federal debt are already shaping up to be central issues in 2011, particularly with dozens of new Republicans joining Congress in January. Messrs. Chambliss (R., Ga.) and Warner (D., Va.) told reporters Monday there is a pathway to a bipartisan deal if both sides agree to put all issues on the table, including an overhaul of the tax code, changes to entitlement programs and spending cuts.
"We do think this is the issue of our time," Mr. Warner said.
The two lawmakers already have formed an informal coalition with roughly 20 other senators who gather to meet with experts about the deficit and the debt.
They said they expect major changes in the Dec. 3 report of the White House-created National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which garnered the support of 11 of its 18 members. But they said the report was a good starting point for legislation because many of the ideas have been publicly aired.
In addition to the bipartisan Chambliss-Warner pairing, Sens. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) are looking at getting some of the recommendations implemented. They were both on the commission and voted for the report. Messrs. Chambliss and Warner weren't on the panel.
Mr. Chambliss said he agreed that all ideas had to be on the table, including gutting certain tax breaks, particularly if it could lead to lower income-tax rates and other changes.
Twice during the meeting with reporters, Mr. Warner appeared hopeful President Barack Obama would use his State of the Union address early next year to express support for cutting the federal debt, which could give him and other lawmakers more leeway to plow ahead. Mr. Chambliss said Republican lawmakers would likely use a vote early next year over whether to raise the debt limit as leverage to get the White House to agree to major spending cuts in the near term.