By Erik Wasson
Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Monday said they will introduce a bill early next year based on the report from President Obama’s deficit commission.
Warner and Chambliss have been meeting with a group of 18 senators on finding a way to balance the budget, and said they have concluded the debt commission's proposal is the best basis for bipartisan talks.
The debt commission's report received bipartisan support from 11 of the panel's members, ranging from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on the right to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the left. The recommendations ultimately failed to advance to a vote in Congress because 14 votes were needed for formal commission backing.
Despite the failed vote, Warner and Chambliss want to use the debt commission's work as a starting point for deficit talks in Congress. The senators said they expect their legislation to evolve as they seek supporters from both parties, but they said the final plan will reflect the commission’s goals of balancing the budget by 2035 by bringing spending down to 21 percent of gross domestic product.
“We are not going to fix it in the short term,” Chambliss said. “There is no silver bullet … you’ve got to put everything on the table.”
Chambliss and Warner also said they back the debt commission’s recommendation for gradual spending cuts in order to preserve the economic recovery.
House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) is seeking to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending in 2011, which would be one of the largest single-year spending cuts in history.
Warner said that it makes sense to take short-term actions to stimulate the economy, such as the tax-cut package that was negotiated by President Obama, even as lawmakers look for a long-term deficit strategy.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Warner said.
Chambliss said it will be important to agree on a deficit plan in the next 12 months so that implementation can begin shortly after the 2012 election. This would give lawmakers a buffer from the possible political fallout from approving spending cuts.
Both senators agree with the debt commission’s plan to eliminate tax breaks in order to lower tax rates. Chambliss in the past has backed the elimination of the income tax in favor of a national sales tax. He did not say whether he is insisting on that approach as part of the Chambliss-Warner bill.
Chambliss said the vote on the nation’s debt ceiling next spring provides an opportunity to advance deficit legislation. Warner said the debt ceiling or agreement on spending legislation, once the continuing resolution being voted on by the Senate on Tuesday expires, would be another opportunity. That CR would expire March 4.
Chambliss acknowledged that the bill will be an enormous piece of legislation, especially if it tackles entitlement reform. The commission's plan cut some benefits for Social Security and Medicare while increasing payroll taxes in order to make Social Security permanently solvent.
Maya MacGuineas of the New America Foundation, who has been working with the senators on the bill, said they plan to have it introduced in January. "This is the first time in so many years that there has been real leadership on this issue," she said in praise of the effort. MacGuineas said there in no way that President Obama's State of the Union address will fail to deal with the debt issue and the debt ceiling and CR extension provide excellent hooks to have a plan adopted.
In Dec. 14 floor speeches, 16 members of the Warner-Chambliss group spoke in praise of the debt commission plan. Speaking were Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).