When Democrat Mark Warner campaigned for the U.S. Senate in 2008, he often talked about joining a bipartisan coalition of “radical centrists” who could advance consensus solutions to major policy challenges.
And now that Republicans have narrowed the Democrats’ Senate majority, Virginia’s junior senator might find some allies in the middle of the road. But a coalition may be taking shape even before the new Congress begins.
Today, Warner and Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss led a procession of 18 senators — 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans — who took to the floor to call for comprehensive tax reform and a deficit and debt reduction plan by the end of next year. Warner and Chambliss had hoped to have the proposal added as an amendment to legislation extending the Bush-era tax cuts, but it appears no amendments will be allowed.
According to Warner’s office, this group began to take shape in the summer, when Warner and Chambliss held some “seminars” for senators to get their arms around the scope of the country’s long-term fiscal problems.
Here’s a transcript of today’s Senate floor remarks by Chambliss and Warner, provided by Warner’s office:
Mr. Chambliss: Mr. President, I rise today to talk on a matter with my colleague, Senator Warner. We have a number of folks that are going to speak quickly today on an issue of major importance to America. Our fiscal house is in disarray. Our budget process is broken and future generations will end up paying the price if we continue to ignore the difficult decisions required to fix things that this grave threat to this country’s fiscal stability. Recently the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has worked in a bipartisan manner to produce recommendations on how to best address our current levels of debt. While these recommendations may not reflect the beliefs of all members of this body, I commend the commission’s members for having the courage and the open minds to tackle the problems. At the very least their recommendations can serve as a starting point for serious debate on how we can ensure a better life for our children and our grandchildren. Today spending has reached almost 24% of America’s gross domestic product while our revenues were at their lowest levels last year in 60 years. Not too long ago the debt ceiling was increased by the largest amount in history: $1.9 trillion. Nearly twice as large as the previous record of $984 billion. Our current statutory limit on the public debt is now set at $14.24 trillion and is expected to require an increase again sometime this spring. Now, Mr. President, with that backdrop, Senator Warner and I began talking this summer about this grave issue that’s facing America and about the fact that if 2003 don’t address it now then it’s going to be too late and it was incumbent upon us to try to educate ourselves as well as educate other members of this body about the seriousness of this issue and what is the way forward. So we began talking among ourselves. We expanded group, expanded and expanded and we now have a significant number of Senators who are prepared to come forth and say we’ve got to address this and we’ve got to address it next year. Some of the members of that group are going to be here today to give their thoughts on it. We’re going to be joined by several Republicans and Democrats to pledge our commitment to addressing this issue and addressing it in the right way. I want to thank my friend, Senator Warner, for his leadership, for his commitment to do this. It’s been a pleasure to work him. As we move forward next year, this group is going to provide the momentum to carry the ball to make sure that we address the issue of reductions in spending as well as major tax reform to get the fiscal house of the United States back in order. With that, Mr. President, I would yield to Senator Warner.
The presiding officer: the Senator from Virginia.
Mr. Warner: Mr. President, let me echo my comments of my good friend, the Senator from Georgia, Senator Chambliss. It is time for us in this Senate — and excuse the language — to put up or shut up. A lot of folks talk about deficit reduction in both parties time and again. But over the next year there is a growing group of us, and I think folks will see this group in the next 45 minutes hopefully briefly, each one of us, start to raise the issue that next year peeve to take on deficit reduction — we have to take on deficit reduction and tax reform. The country is approaching $14 trillion in national debt. It’s been estimated that every day that we delay we add close to $5 billion to that national debt. So whether your issue is the solvency of social security, whether your issue is tax rates, whether your issue is making sure that we pass on a balance sheet to our kids and our grandkids that allow America to continue to be the economic superpower that it has been, unless we take on this issue, we won’t be able to accomplish those goals. And while I believe as imperfect as this compromise between the president and others in terms of short-term stimulus, that we will vote on later tonight, we also have to demonstrate that this body can actually walk and chew gum. We can do short-term stimulus now but next year engage in meaningful tax reform and deficit reduction. If we tonight we will be adding $900 billion over the next two years to our national deficit. Today you’re going to hear very briefly from a number of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I think in a new respectful way — we may not agree on the ultimate solutions, but we are going to agree to listen to each other respectfully and recognize at the end of the day meaningful tax reform and the need for deficit reduction has to be a goal of this Senate, of this Congress in the next year. I yield the floor to my good friend, the Senator from Mississippi…