Just about everyone in Washington is afraid of the looming "sequester" -- due to slash $109 billion from next year's budget (including half from the Department of Defense) if no action is taken by the January 2 deadline -- but as of yet, no one has a plan to do anything about it. Enter a new "Gang of Six" (no, not that one, or that one either) whose members say they are committed to coming up with a "balanced, bipartisan deficit reduction package" to avert the dreaded cuts. The problem? They need to come up with a grand plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the nation's books over the next 10 years and do it in a lame-duck session of Congress following a bitter presidential election. Not easy. Don't forget, the reason we're currently in this fiscal bind is because the bipartisan "super committee" created as part of last summer's debt ceiling deal failed to reach consensus on a way forward. What's different now?
Back then, Republicans refused to raise net revenue through the tax code, while Democrats balked at any dramatic changes to Medicare and Social Security. The key word coming from the new group of senators here is "balanced." The six senators -- Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) -- seem to be suggesting that tax hikes will be a part of their proposed solution. But the key question, as always, remains: Will Republicans go along with it?
Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) seems to think they might. "We're not going to save our defense unless we go along with the president's wishes to raise taxes on small business," he told The Washington Post. "It's not a good choice. I would never support it ... [But] there are enough Republicans, I think, who are so afraid of defense cuts that they would probably give in. President Obama appears to hold the cards here as he would need to sign into law any legislation passed by Congress to prevent the sequester from going into effect. Republicans may hate increased revenues but they also know what the cost of inaction would mean to their beloved Defense Department. For that reason, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others have advised the president to push hard for a deal in the post-election lame-duck session when he has leverage over congressional Republicans. (This, of course, assuming that President Obama wins re-election).
Senator Jeanne Shaheen appeared on the show today, striking an apolitical tone. She says the political advantage should not figure into the calculus of any potential deal. "This shouldn't be about who has the upper hand," she said. "The goal was never to let the sequester go into effect, never to do these across-the-board cuts. I don't know anybody who thinks that's a good idea, so what we need to do is roll up our sleeves and we need to come up with a long-term solution that addresses all aspects of the budget."
Fair enough, but we didn't hear anything from her today to suggest that a deal is any closer than it was last summer.