Last minute debt deal a day late and $4 trillion short

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July 19th, 2011
John Fredericks / Staff

Chambliss May Be Key To Budget Deal

Is the Georgia Senator Obama's last hope to avoid a looming government shutdown?

News Analysis 

WASHINGTON -- Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-) may the Obama administration's last best hope to avoid a looming government shutdown. 

Chambliss [pictured below], who quietly serves as the defacto conservative leader on the much maligned "Gang of Six" U.S. Senate bi-partisan coalition, is now the lynchpin to a much sought after deal to avoid U.S financial calamity if the debt ceiling isn't raised by the August 2 deadline. And time is running out. 

"My friend Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and I started a dialogue early last year to raise the awareness of the pronounced problems we have as a country in dealing with our out of control deficit spending and our impending debt crisis," Chambliss said. "We wanted to take a long-term approach and work toward a permanent solution that would bring our budget into balance and reduce the nation's debt. The consequences of inaction are dire." 

The state's senior Senator -- who also serves as the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- is now President Obama's best hope in getting a deal done that appeases all sides of the ideological spectrum and gives conservatives the spending reductions they demand to cut a compromise. 

But now Chambliss and his five remaining Senate colleagues who make up his "Fab Five" group -- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) bailed on the coalition a few months ago -- are thrust smack in the middle of a short-term solution they never intended. 

"Right now we have the highest level of spending and debt to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) since World War II," Chambliss said. "It simply can't continue at this pace unabated. The long-term economic ramifications for our future are incomprehensible." 

Chambliss says the solution is much simpler than getting an agreement in place within the reality of a fractured government. "We have to energize the economy by growing jobs and expanding the tax base to increase our revenue, and then get the spending down," Chambliss emphasized. While acknowledging his math to permanent deficit reduction works, the arithmetic in the Senate is more problematic. "We need 60 votes to get any long-term solution passed." 

Chambliss says he is pushing for a comprehensive "cut, cap and balance" approach, similar to what Republicans in the House will vote on today. "I don't know what we can pass in the Senate but any increase in our debt ceiling has to be tied to serious spending reductions and a balanced budget," Chambliss maintained. "Only this will send the right signals to the marketplace," Chambliss predicted. "Getting the deficit reduced gets the U.S. economy moving in the right direction. We can't tax our way out of this." The veteran legislator, who ran a number of successful businesses before entering public service, says his chamber must find a middle ground that works for the country as a whole. 


Chambliss says he doesn't support Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) [pictured right] plan for two primary reasons: "I want to have an up or down vote on any budget or debt ceiling plan, and this is a waiver," Chambliss said.

He called McConnell's "last ditch compromise" a "non-starter" and criticized it as politics trumping policy. "We need to agree on a sound policy for the good of the nation," not punt for potential political gains, Chambliss said. "If I vote for the McConnell plan (to allow the President to raise the debt ceiling on his own), then what am I voting for?" the senator asked, rhetorically. "The Democrats control two of the three branches of the Federal government." 


While Chambliss stopped short of predicting an eleventh hour deal to avoid a shut-down, he shared that he's more optimistic a compromise will get worked out prior to August 2 than he was a month ago. "No one knows for sure what the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling and a corresponding government shut-down will be," Chambliss said. "I believe a deal is imminent." 


Former "Gang of Six" member Coburn unveiled yet another plan on Monday, which he coined, "Back in the Black." But it went straight to the back of the bus.

Much like McConnell's ploy, it was met with immediate resistance in the Senate. The plan would cut $1 trillion in defense spending over the next 10 years; enact $2.6 trillion in deficit savings through changes to popular entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid; and generate $1 trillion in savings through reforming tax expenditures, including the elimination of ethanol subsidies.  Coburn’s proposal would overhaul Social Security but would use any savings generated to extend the program’s solvency rather than bringing down the national debt. The plan would also gradually raise the Social Security retirement age by one month every two years beginning in 2022.

35 Senate Republicans voted in favor of jettisoning such subsidies last month. But GOP leaders remain adamantly opposed to including any tax increases in a long-term deficit-reduction plan as part of a debt ceiling compromise. 

Meanwhile, Democrats vehemently oppose cuts to any entitlement programs as part of a debt-limit deal. 

So Coburn's proposal is DOA in the Senate. 

That leaves it up to Chambliss, Warner [pictured left] and his "Fab-Five" team to forge together a solution that can pass both chambers and be signed into law by the President. This was not Chambliss' concept when he convened the group. 

"There are consequences to winning elections," the senator said. "One of them is you have to govern."

Long a thorn in Obama's foreign policy side, Chambliss now represents the President's best hope in getting a comprehensive budget plan through the Senate to avoid a shut-down. But Chambliss knows he holds the trump cards. He'll likely play his hand -- and hold out for the best deficit reduction deal he can make.  And Obama knows it, too. Chambliss is in the conductor's seat in a debt-ceiling train heading off a cliff. It'll take a right turn by the President to keep it on the tracks.

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