Warner Waffling on Debt Reduction?

by Andrew Stiles

Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), a moderate Democrat, has been a key player in the so-called “Gang of Six” negotiations in the Senate. “Gang” members are working behind-the-scenes on a grand deficit-reduction package that builds off the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission. Warner told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday that the group would be releasing something “very shortly.”

One might think (or hope) that, given President Obama’s disregard for the debt commission’s recommendations in his own budget proposal for 2012, Warner would have one or two positive things to say about House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s proposal — due out Tuesday — which reportedly will incorporate a number of the panel’s recommendations, including tax reform and entitlement reform, and even surpass the commission’s goal of $4 trillion in savings over the next ten years.

Not so.

Crowley asked if Ryan’s plan could be a “starting point” for further negotiations, but Warner simply offered up some familiar, if unusually polite, demagoguery. “I don’t know how you get there without taking basically a meat axe to those programs who protect the most vulnerable in our country,” he said. “So I’ll give anybody the benefit of a doubt until I get a chance to look at the details, but I think the only way you’re going to really get there is if you put all of these things, including defense spending, including tax reform, as part of the overall package.” (Emphasis mine.)

Not one positive word. It used to be that even liberal Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) would nominally praise Ryan for at least proposing a serious plan for debt reduction before lambasting it as a heartless and barbaric assault on America’s grandmothers. Those days are likely gone forever, but that doesn’t erase the fact that Ryan’s 2012 budget — regardless of one’s politics — will be the only serious attempt at meaningful deficit reduction since the Simpson-Bowles commission released their recommendations in December of last year. But Warner cannot bring himself to acknowledge this.

A senior Republican source tells NRO that Warner’s comments certainly do not favor the chances of a grand bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction, and is yet another sign that President Obama and senior Democrats are content to dodge and demagogue the issue straight through to Election Day 2012. The source says Warner has privately confided that he believes the nation is headed for a fiscal catastrophe if nothing is done. “If he really feels that way, you would think he could find a few positive aspects of Ryan’s plan,” the source says. “He could at least say ‘I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s better than the course we’re on.’”

The source says he worries that Warner may get roped in by the likes of Sens. Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), as well as President Obama’s political team, who would like nothing more than to run out the clock on meaningful reforms to reduce the deficit (apart from those involving massive tax increases). By never putting forward a formal proposal of their own, Democrats will be free to attack Ryan’s plan to their heart’s content. Oh, look, they’re already doing it.

Something to look for in the near future will be whether or not Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), a “Gang of Six” member who also served on the debt commission, will even bother to produce a 2012 budget. Conrad has been, along with Warner, one of the most outspoken in calling for immediate and bold action to reduce the long-term deficit. If either one, or both of them, dig in with Obama, it would effectively signal the entire Democratic party’s abdication of responsibility when it comes to the deficit (but perhaps that ship has long since sailed).

Warner discusses Ryan’s plan starting at 13:50.

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