Senators Mark Warner and Saxby Chambliss will seek to put the U.S. debt atop the agenda early in next year's Congress by proposing legislation to slash government spending, reduce popular tax breaks and trim entitlement programs.
Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, have been working over the past six months to court a group of 25 senators from both sides of the political aisle in hopes of gathering support for their bill, Warner said today in an interview.
The legislation is based on a plan by the co-chairs of President Barack Obama's debt-reduction panel that earlier this month failed to get enough support for its recommendations to be sent to Congress.
"Why not take their work and amend off that?" said Warner, who casts his bill as an effort "to get the ball rolling" on the congressional debate over how to tame the nation's $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit.
"You just have to start with some building blocks," he said. "You've got to take on entitlements, you've also got to take on revenues."
The bill may face long odds since Obama's 18-member commission, a mix of elected and unelected leaders, couldn't get the 14 votes necessary to forward the plan to Congress. Members from both parties opposed its mix of tax increases and spending cuts in programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Warner's supporters say his initiative will, at a minimum, focus attention on the deficit and the national debt early in a congressional session that will include many newly elected House and Senate members who made pledges to voters to address the issues.
"This is a group that is going to get momentum and insist on continuing to bring up the deficit at every single moment," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a watchdog group.
She has been working with Warner's group, which has met regularly with lawmakers and economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and former Comptroller General David Walker. During the debate on Dec. 15 over extending President George W. Bush's tax cuts, 18 of the group's members joined together to give speeches on the Senate floor urging action on the deficit by the end of 2011.
The rejected proposal by debt commission co-chairmen Erskine Bowles, a White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton, and Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, would have reduced the annual deficit to about $400 billion in 2015 and begun reducing the debt.
The plan would have increased taxes by $1 trillion by 2020 by scaling back or eliminating hundreds of deductions, exclusions or credits such as those allowing homeowners to write off interest on their mortgage payments. It would also have cut individual and corporate income tax rates.
Social Security benefits would have been cut, the gas tax would have gone up by 15 cents, discretionary spending would have been reduced by $1.6 trillion and Medicare would have been pared by $400 billion.