Amid Fiscal Frustration, Some Signs for Hope

The Senate is poised to pass a tax cut package that will add over $850 billion to our deficit. Meanwhile, a pork-laden $1.108 trillion omnibus spending bill was introduced in the very same chamber Tuesday in the latest chapter of the mockery that is the budget and appropriations process. Not good news by any means on the fiscal front. Yet there was a ray of hope as a bipartisan group of senators took to the floor serving notice that next year they will push for serious action on debt reduction and tax reform.

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Corker (R-TN), Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kay Hagan (D-NC), James Risch (R-ID), Mark Udall (D-CO), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeanne Shaheen, (D-NH), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Mark Begich (D-AK) all gave brief speeches in succession in a coordinated effort to put the need to address our fiscal challenges front and center. There were some basic themes that all the remarks shared:

• our mounting debt is one of the most critical issues this country has faced;

• the work of the White House Fiscal Commission is an important effort and a good starting point for addressing our fiscal problems;

• bipartisan cooperation will be required;

• and action must occur now.

Warner bluntly said that it is time for the Senate “to put up or shut up” when it comes to federal budget deficits, debt, and tax reform. Chambliss remarked that the group will push for action early next year. Wyden noted that Congress too often puts off making tough decisions on important issues, and that the tax cut deal represented “a victory for the politics of procrastination.” Corker stated that the debt represents the gravest threat to our economy and sovereignty. Hagan observed that “our current path is unsustainable” and that the debt must be tackled in a “civil and bipartisan manner.”

The group has submitted a proposed amendment to the tax cut legislation that expresses the sense of the Senate that by the end of 2011 a “comprehensive plan for addressing the fiscal concerns facing our Nation should be considered by the United States Senate.” The non-binding resolution also states that the “fundamental cornerstones of this plan will be tax reform, spending restraint, and debt and deficit reduction” and that it should be crafted in a bipartisan manner. The group also will push for substantive deficit reduction and tax reform ahead of an expected vote to raise the debt ceiling next spring.

Combined with remarks Monday by the second-ranking Democrat in the House, you can call these developments green shoots (or maybe “black shoots” for getting our budget back in the black) for fiscal policy. In a speech at the National Press Club, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), also said that the next Congress must tackle deficits and reform the tax code. “No other issue calls so strongly for leaders who understand the importance of hard choices and hard truths,” he said.

Things may look bleak right now for fiscal sanity, but there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s hope more lawmakers heed the words of their colleagues.