They have been quietly, sometimes secretly, searching for a solution, what The Hill newspaper called “the elusive grand deficit bargain,” to that day when all the Bush tax cuts expire and $109 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts are to take effect, the much discussed fiscal cliff.
Their idea, a sensible one, is to draw up a plan to deal with that crisis so that when Congress returns for its lame-duck session following the election the members are not proceeding from a totally blank piece of paper.
Much depends on the outcome of that election. Even if President Barack Obama is re-elected, the Senate remains Democratic and the House Republican, the voters may have made it clear during the campaign that they are tired of the partisan gridlock in Washington.
However, the Gang of Eight — it was six but they picked up two more members — is up against the same impasse that stymied three previous attempts to address the deficit. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has said he is opposed to cuts in Social Security as part of any deal, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is equally adamant about no tax increases.
The six, who began meeting in the summer of 2011, include Democratic whip Dick Durbin, Ill; retiring Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.); Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.);and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). They’ve since been joined by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).
Reports from Capitol Hill say the leadership of the two parties are keeping their distance from the Gang of Eight. A reasonable surmise is that the leaders don’t want to commit to any deal until all the members are back.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who’s supportive of the efforts by the “Gang,” sounded optimistic in a speech Thursday to The Atlanta Press Club in Atlanta.
“We’ll probably pass a pathway to the future in the lame-duck session, meaning we’ll probably forestall the tax increases from taking place,” he said. “We’ll probably forestall the sequestration from taking place. But we’ll take some initial corrective steps in spending and regulation to send a signal to the rest of the world that the Americans are finally going to address their problem.”
One the election is over Congress has only 55 days to come up with a solution. The House is ready with a bill that would postpone the tax hike and the automatic budget cuts for one year.
But this would be another dreary example of Congress not solving problems, only postponing them or, as the like to say on the Hill, kick the can down the road.