Georgia’s two U.S. senators have spent the month of August laying the groundwork for the campaign after the campaign.
In December, with a bitter and exhausting race for the White House in the rear view mirror, a lame-duck Congress will be forced to come to grips with the consequences of last year’s failure to approve a plan to significantly reduce a $16 trillion federal deficit.
Without bipartisan agreement in both the House and Senate, $1.2 trillion in cuts to domestic and defense programs will begin at years’ end. Of that, $492 billion in cuts over 10 years will be aimed at the Pentagon. Plus, those Bush-era tax cuts will all vanish.
The operative term is “sequestration.” But “fiscal cliff” will do.
Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have held session after session at Georgia’s military bases and their surrounding communities, emphasizing the “devastating” impact the cuts would have on local economies – not to mention defense readiness.
“This is just one of those times, if there ever was a time, that we have an opportunity to try to thread both sides back together and operate the way the House and Senate are supposed to operate,” Chambliss said in an interview in Macon, after delivering his dire message to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
The across-the-board cuts are the penalty for the failure of a “super committee” to come to grips with the deficit. Both the committee and the sword of Damocles were contained in the debt-ceiling agreement hammered out by the Senate and House last August.
Republican are still divided over its wisdom. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney opposed the deal. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, now the GOP vice presidential nominee, supported it.
“Sequestration was the poison pill designed to prevent what’s happening from ever happening. Unfortunately, they swallowed the pill,” said Isakson, in a telephone interview from Pelham, Ga.
One sign of the two senators’ seriousness: In addition to Republican members of Congress, they have invited Democrats – John Barrow of Augusta and Sanford Bishop of Albany – to their press conferences, too.
Similar forays have been conducted by senators in Texas and New England – important geography for the Air Force and Navy, respectively.
That announcement by Lockheed Martin that it is laying off 550 workers from its Marietta plant – U.S. government orders of its C-130J are down – could be considered part of the same effort.
As could last week’s report by the Congressional Budget Office, which declared that sequestration could send the nation into another recession, and kill 2 million jobs in the process.
The “super committee” negotiations failed last year, in part, because tea party enthusiasts took the upper hand in the debate. House Republicans dared not accept anything that smacked of compromise – much less a tax increase.
Isakson and Chambliss are clearly trying to bring business leaders into the next debate, earlier and more forcefully, as a counterweight.
Chambliss outlined four options for Congress:
— Let the across-the-board cuts take place. “There are a lot of people in the House and Senate that would actually like to see that happen.”
— “Secondly, we can eviscerate the whole thing, which would be the wrong thing to do.”
— “Thirdly, we can kick it down the road, 60 days or 90 days, 12 months, whatever. “
— “Or we can come up with the big deal, the grand bargain, that addresses all of these issues that involved in the fiscal cliff, as well as sequestration.”
Chambliss, of course, has been pushing for the big deal, though his bipartisan “Gang of Six” effort with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., adopting many of the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission.
That a lame-duck Congress could or should reach a massive debt bargain in a 30-day window isn’t likely, Chambliss admits. What he would like to see is a good start – perhaps delaying expiration of the Bush tax cuts for six months, while the next Congress hammers out a new tax code.
As an incentive, Congress could adopt yet another hammer – automatic implications of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations if the House and Senate fail to act. That would require a 3-to-1 ratio of federal spending cuts to revenue increases.
Keep in mind that, last year, all Republican candidates for president – including Romney – said they would reject even a 10-to-1 ratio of cuts to tax hikes.
December will be a risky season for both Isakson and Chambliss. “This is not about not making the cuts. It’s about doing it the responsible way — not abdicating to an across-the-board cut,” Isakson said.
But the risk is greater for Chambliss, who is likely to begin his 2014 re-election campaign next year. “The profile of this issue is getting raised every day, and I’ve been out front on it from day one. If you solve the problem, the politics takes care of itself,” Chambliss said. “But will it draw an opponent? Yeah, I’m sure.”
More than likely, Chambliss will shake hands with that opponent – whoever he or she may be – at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider