Sens. Warner, Chambliss Seek Compromise On Budget
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
We are early in what's expected to be a nasty year of fights over the federal budget. The fight could affect almost any federal program, almost any federal benefit, and also the future of the country. It's not likely to be pretty, but we're going to hear this morning from two senators seeking common ground.
Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia convened a group of senators. They've been meeting regularly and supporting the proposals of a presidential commission to bring down the deficit. They do that even though both senators say it could be painful.
Chambliss, the Republican, says he could favor eliminating tax deductions to bring the government more money.
Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): What the Debt Commission recommended was that when you reform the tax code the way they suggested, you will actually lower income taxes, but...
INSKEEP: Lower rates for everybody. Right.
Sen. CHAMBLISS: But what you do is, you take the accumulation of tax expenses, tax spending...
Sen. CHAMBLISS: ...that we have had incorporated in the tax code over the last 60 years and you just reform it in a way that makes it more fair to all taxpayers. That will have the result of increasing revenue.
INSKEEP: If there is increased revenue, are there going to be people on the Republican side who are going to say that's a tax increase, people need to be defeated, people need to be challenged in primaries, that sort of thing?
Sen. CHAMBLISS: Well, I can't answer that, obviously, but nobody wants to raise taxes. I've never voted for a tax increase and certainly hope I never have to vote for one. What I want to do, though, is create a system that is much simpler and is much fairer, and at the end of the day will allow revenues to be generated in companion with the reductions in spending on mandatory programs as well as discretionary, will move us in the direction of saving $4 trillion over the next 10 years.
INSKEEP: Senator Warner, let me ask about the other half of that equation that Senator Chambliss laid out. He basically said that you can try to get more revenue. Conservatives can sign onto that if there are substantial, meaningful spending cuts. Do you think there is sufficient appetite in the Democratic side for those kind of cuts?
Senator MARK WARNER (Democrat, Virginia): I think there is a growing recognition that meaningful spending cuts is where our country has to head. Just as on Republican side, there's a debate about revenues, there's questions about when we phase some of these entitlement changes in.
Sen. WARNER: I think one of the points that's important to make is that anything we do on Social Security would be only funds that would stay within Social Security. So it's not we're taking money from Social Security to pay off the deficit; it is about making Social Security solvent for 75 years.
INSKEEP: Well, let me ask the flipside of the question I asked Senator Chambliss. I asked him if Republicans were going to go after anybody who signs on to more revenue. Are Democrats or some Democrats likely to go after anybody who signs on to changes for Social Security? Because Democrats have attacked Republicans on that issue in recent elections, including the last one.
Sen. WARNER: There will be, I'm sure, some who will be concerned about touching this issue, but some of this not Democrat or Republican. Social Security retirement age was set at 65 by President Roosevelt when life expectancy was 64. Life expectancy in America now is about 80. The math here is just irrefutable.
Sen. CHAMBLISS: Let me pick up on what Mark's saying and make two quick points. First of all, he's exactly right. We're $14 trillion in debt and it's rising every single day, so either we policymakers fix it now while we've got the opportunity to do so, or the people that buy our bonds, i.e., the Chinese, they dictate to us how we solve this. We don't want that.
We as Americans need to decide how we're going to fix it. Secondly, there is something in the debt commission report for everybody to dislike.
Sen. CHAMBLISS: That's why you've got to have a whole overall package.
INSKEEP: Former Senator Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the Deficit Commission, said on the program earlier this week that he didn't think there was any need to shred the social safety net. He didn't like the proposal, for example, to reduce subsidies for low income heat assistance. He didn't like going after the Women, Infants and Children program. He felt you could find bigger dollars elsewhere, and one thing he specified was Defense. His commission proposed bigger Defense cuts than President Obama has proposed.
Both of you senators come from states - Virginia and Georgia that depend a lot on the military. Are you two going to be able to sign on, willing to sign on, to big cuts in Defense if that's what it takes?
Sen. WARNER: Steve, I just went through in my state closure of Joint Forces Command.
INSKEEP: This is a command that was based in Virginia.
Sen. WARNER: This is a command that was based in Norfolk, Virginia, and I'm still not 100 percent satisfied with where we ended up. We made the business case that in terms of protecting our military, particularly our troops in the field, that computerized modeling and simulation services were necessary. We're still taking a hit. I don't like it, but at the end of the day I can't be saying everything's got to be on the table but not my state. And I think the -some of the established groups in this town that want to fight this change at any rate are way behind where the American people are at.
INSKEEP: That's Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, along with Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia.
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