By Maria Saporta
In his second term as Georgia’s senior senator, Republican Saxby Chambliss has emerged into a rare breed in Washington, D.C. He’s become bi-partisan.
This evolved Saxby Chambliss demonstrated his ability to work across the aisle when he insisted that U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) appear with him on Monday at the Rotary Club of Atlanta.
Chambliss and Warner have teamed up to develop a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit — an issue that is vital to the nation’s security and its future competitiveness.
“We have an opportunity to address this issue,” Chambliss said. “If we don’t do it, the people who buy our bonds, ie: the Chinese will dictate to us how we do it.”
Chambliss and Warner joined forces last summer when they realized they had “common ideas” and a deep concern about the nation’s $14 trillion deficit.
Simultaneously, the Presidential Debt Commission was working on its recommendations, which it unveiled this past December. Chambliss and Warner are working with their colleagues, the four senators who served on the commission, to come up with a deficit reduction plan.
While they weren’t ready to share specifics, Warner and Chambliss said the only way to address the deficit was to take a multi-prong approach — cut the budget, address entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and seek ways to raise revenues either by eliminating certain tax incentives and tax breaks or seeking new revenues.
They are expected to present their plan in the next month or so.
“We are getting very close to an agreement (among the six senators),” Chambliss said. “The six of us are committed to coming up with a plan. It’s been a very difficult negotiation and discussion. The president threw us a curve ball this weekend when we hear he will be giving a speech Wednesday night. We don’t know what the White House is going to say. We are going to continue to work and develop a plan. We are going to have to get that bill passed.”
Warner said that the only way a bill will pass is if there is a bi-partisan, moderate proposal rather than a hardened Republican plan or a hardened Democratic plan. If deficit reduction becomes an ultra-partisan debate, it will never pass, Warner said.
In a press briefing after their Rotary appearance, Chambliss and Warner were taking a wait-and-see attitude about the plan that President Barack Obama will present on Wednesday.
“We just didn’t know till yesterday that the president was going to make any comment on debt reduction,” Chambliss said. “We have all been very hopeful he’s going to come out with more detail.”
In the end, what will count the most will be to come up with a plan that can garner at least 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, which is the shared goal of Chambliss and Warner.
“If the president wants to come on board with us, we certainly would welcome it,” Chambliss said. “We are going to continue working together — the six of us.”
Warner then added: “To get this done, we are going to need the president’s involvement and the president’s leadership. If we can start with a bi-partisan plan, it will increase the chances.”
Rotarians embraced the bi-partisan message of Chambliss and Warner — giving both a standing ovation after their presentation. Several Rotarians mentioned how impressed they were that Chambliss had emerged as a leader on this issue and that he was willing to work in a bi-partisan way to solve the nation’s debt crisis.
After years of avoiding the nation’s growing debt problems, it is encouraging to hear leaders on both sides talking about the need to address the deficit and entitlements.
Combine that with the Presidential Debt Commission and Obama’s apparent willingness to take ownership of reducing the debt, perhaps our nation’s leaders are laying the groundwork to begin resolving this issue once-and-for-all.
No one knows if the nation will finally begin dealing with its suffocating debt, but what is known is that Chambliss and Warner are emerging as national leaders who can show us that bi-partisan cooperation is still possible in today’s divisive environment.