By Maria Saporta
In a talk to the Rotary Club of Atlanta Monday, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) called the next six months “the most critical” in the history of the country.
The country faces three deadlines — March 1 — when sequestration will force across the board spending cuts; March 27 — the final day that Congress has to pass a continuing resolution; and August 18 — the final date by which Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling.
Between now and then, Congress has the opportunity to pass comprehensive tax reform; address the deficit; provide long-term fix for Social Security and Medicare; and deal with entitlements such as Medicaid.
Isakson said that the vote at 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 1 to institutionalize the overwhelming majority of former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts — which won 88 votes in the U.S. Senate — showed that Congress can act when it has little choice.
“In fact, Congress does it’s work when faced with a deadline,” Isakson said.
And Isakson, who described himself as an “eternal optimist,” said he believes that the possibility exists in the U.S. Senate to work on bi-partisan solutions.
In the Senate, 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster and bring about a vote. That means that six Republicans would have to vote with the 55 Democrats who now hold the majority.
“I think that’s about to happen in the U.S. Senate,” Isakson said. “You can’t do anything in the Senate without 60 votes.”
Isakson said that because Democrats hold the majority, proposed legislation might not be ideal for Republicans. But in the case of avoiding across the board tax increases on Jan. 1, 2013, the U.S. Senate saw the merit of voting for a compromise solution. The worst outcome for the United States would be for the country to have to start paying interest on its interest payments, a downward spiral that would be hard to reverse.
Asked after his speech whether he could be one of the six Republicans who would vote with the Democrats to help get legislation passed, Isakson said it was possible. “As long as it’s the right solution,” he said.
Isakson was not asked about his reaction to the decision by fellow U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) to not seek re-election in 2014. Like Chambliss, Isakson has been pushing Congress to consider the deficit reduction proposals submitted by the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Chambliss, however, was facing Tea Party criticism for being willing to work on a comprehensive bi-partisan plan.
But Isakson does not seem to be backing away. When asked about Simpson-Bowles at lunch on Monday, Isakson said: “What I described to you was Simpson-Bowles. The only thing they didn’t touch was Medicare. We have got a problem that begs a comprehensive solution. That plan is by far the best solution… It’s the foundation upon which we can do what was described in my speech.”