By Michael O'Connell
Soon-to-be senior Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has been in the thick of recent federal appropriations battles. He led the original Gang of Six that tried to get a bipartisan deal on the budget going last year. Now, he's back at it, trying to head off sequestration. Warner says that, in spite of how it may seem, lawmakers understand the dangers of the fiscal cliff.
"There is an enormous recognition of the consequences to our economy if we go over the cliff," Warner told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp Monday. "I think in terms of our federal workers, the idea that we would once again have some dramatic jolt that would result from the sequestration cuts, which are the most inappropriate cuts, the least thoughtful approach, would be horrible."
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are currently involved in negotiations to reach a bipartisan deal.
As someone who has been pursuing a bipartisan fiscal solution for 2-1/2 years, Warner said large numbers of supporters from both parties want to be part of this discussion and are willing to support a balanced approach that both raises more revenues and recognizes that entitlement programs have got to be made viable over the long term.
Warner said he thinks there's a way to start with the tax rates higher and then reform downward.
The bipartisan Gang of Six, Warner said, had a $4 trillion plan based on the Simpson-Bowles Plan around the debt ceiling.
"That's still our framework that includes additional revenues, that includes entitlement reforms, that includes additional cuts on domestic defense and mandatory programs," Warner said. "The challenge has been that if you change your baselines, it does have dramatic effects, so we've been trying to do that."
The group continues to meet and share ideas. The goal right now, according to Warner, is to not get in the way of any ongoing negotiations between Obama and Boehner.
"One of the challenges, particularly in the aftermath of the election is, even if you've got a great plan, it may be hard for the leaders on both sides to immediately agree," Warner said. "So, if we have to take the first few whacks to narrow the playing field so that the Speaker and the President can get us faster and quicker to a 'yes,' that may be some value. But we'll have to see how this will continue the leadership discussion and play out."
Warner said he thinks a budget deal would do more for job growth and to spur this economy than any specific program President Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney presented in their campaigns.
"And, it will do enormous amount of value in terms of restoring America's confidence, particularly as we go into the very important retail holiday season that the folks they've hired are actually going to put country over partisan interests," he said.
Beyond sequestration, many federal employees are concerned about the continuing resolution, which the current Congress pushed back to March 2013 for consideration. Warner hopes Congress will resolve the matter and break its pattern of repeatedly turning to CRs rather than passing an actual budget.
"Every time we start and stop the federal government, the largest enterprise in the world, we waste millions and millions of dollars," Warner said. "Nothing is a crazier business proposition than running the federal government on three-, six- and nine-month continuing resolutions. It's insane because you can't plan. If you're a contractor, you don't know if that contract will be there. If you're in the federal government itself, a federal employee, your programs you can't move forward on. So, from a plain efficiency and cost-savings standpoint, we need to get four-year appropriations bills."