Behind closed doors, bipartisan bids to break budget impasse
The words of Republican and Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill suggest Congress is headed for a government shutdown over budget issues. But several bipartisan groups of rank-and-file senators are seeking to find a solution.
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A starting point is the final report of the federal deficit commission, released in December. The plan cut federal spending by $4 trillion over 10 years, in part by eliminating tax breaks. President Obama barely referenced the plan in his State of the Union address, nor have many party leaders.
But senators who served on the commission are continuing their discussions – largely outside of formal leadership channels – to test prospects for consensus. “It’s too important to just let it go,” says Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, who cohosted an early morning meeting of some 40 senators on Tuesday.
A commission member, Senator Coburn surprised fellow conservatives by voting for the final report in December, which included both the spending cuts that conservatives are calling for as well as tax increases that they oppose. Sens. Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota, Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, and Mike Crapo (R) of Idaho – also commission members – are leading ongoing discussions. Many participants are reluctant to discuss the policy issues on the record, beyond noting the urgency of reining in soaring deficits.
“There’s consensus forming around the math, if not yet the method of dealing with the problem,” says an aide close to the talks.
At a time when leaders on both sides of the aisle are talking openly about prospects of a government shutdown, this revival of bipartisan activity marks a break with past practice, but one that participating senators say is a necessity.
“The members of the deficit commission who voted for the final report and some other senators are meeting to see if there is any way we can work together,” says Senator Durbin, who is the Senate majority whip, but not participating in that capacity. “It’s going to be a painful exercise, but we need to do it.”