Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sen. Dick Durbin, January, 2011.
Things are apparently so bad on Capitol Hill, that if you're Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the Senate's second in command, you see silver linings where others see only clouds.
In an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, an All Things Considered co-host, Durbin said the recent crashing and burning of Republican and Democratic alternative proposals for funding the federal government the rest of the fiscal year was progress, of a sort.
We learned something... We learned... that the House Republican budget with $100 billion in cuts was not going to pass the U.S. Senate. We learned at the same time that the Senate Democratic alternative wouldn't pass either. So we at least have a starting point in terms of our lack of success. I hope it leads to more fruitful discussions.
In otherwords, now that each side has presented the other with its opening bid which it knew beforehand would be rejected by the other, maybe they can now get down to some serious bargaining on a spending deal, Durbin appeared to be saying.
Beyond reaching a so far elusive agreement for spending out to the end of September, the consensus among experts and many lawmakers is that the nation's fiscal difficulties won't truly be addressed until efforts are taken to address entitlement spending.
To that end, Robert asked Durbin why the Democrats just didn't take the lead by offering proposals that would reduce spending on, say, Social Security?
Durbin's optimism seemed to fade somewhat when it came to this. The senator said:
I want to make two points. First, we are a nominal majority. An actual majority in the Senate doesn't get anything done. It takes 60 votes and we have 53.
Second. the Social Security system as it currently exists is one of the most solvent funds in our government. And those who want to turn the spotlight on Social Security I hope are doing it with the best of intentions and not confusing the obvious.
Senator, I can assure you Robert had only the best of intentions.
When Robert suggested that perhaps we're getting an "Alphonse and Gaston" routine from Democrats and Republicans, neither wanting to be the first to unveil an entitlement-reform plan, Durbin's optimism returned.
Ah, but there's hope and the hope comes down to this. There's six of us. Three Democrats and three Republican senators sitting down in a room trying to work out a bipartisan approach to this, realizing we can't get it done in a matter of months or weeks.
It's going to take years and it's going to take a process that is truly bipartisan.
Durbin was referring to the so-called Gang of Six.
Maybe his hope in his fellow senators is justified. But just because the Senate might agree on how to reform entitlements doesn't mean his old Senate colleague, President Obama, will sign onto it, though Durbin was optimistic there, too.
I think if we have the right approach, that we can gather not only bipartisan support in the senate but also the White House.
Durbin noticeably omitted, however, the Republican House. His optimism apparently only goes so far.