- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sen. Mark R. Warner said Thursday he believes Republicans and Democrats in Washington still can hammer out a long-term deficit-reduction deal this year, despite election-year posturing and the partisan gridlock in Congress.

“I still hope and pray that — and call me an eternal optimist or crazy — that, particularly after the Republican nominee is decided, there may be a chance in late spring to put forward a major deficit-reduction plan,” the first-term Virginia Democrat said in an interview on The Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio program.

The moderate Democrat said he is working with a small group to revive the idea of the bipartisan deficit reduction panel headed by Democrat Erskine Bowles and former GOP Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson. The panel was commissioned by President Obama, but its recommendations were not embraced in the end by either party.

“We’re drafting the so-called Simpson-Bowles 2.0, because whether you support the president or the Republican nominee, the last thing we need to do is saddle the next president with having to raise the debt ceiling in the first couple of months in the beginning of next year. That would make no sense. Whoever the president is would be hurt coming right out of the blocks,” said Mr. Warner, a member of the Senate’s “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group that has worked on deficit reduction.

Mr. Warner said the president, who has never officially endorsed his own commission’s plan, should embrace Simpson-Bowles as a bipartisan solution to the nation’s fiscal crisis.

“I think it’s important that he would do that,” he said. “On all these issues, you’re going to have to find a bipartisan solution. There is no such thing as a Republican-only or Democrat-only solution to all these problems.”

“At this moment, if there’s going to be a plan [EnLeader] you’re almost going to have to start it as a bipartisan plan. If it starts out of the White House, if it starts with the Republican nominee — there’s going to be automatic reaction.”

Mr. Warner, a former telecommunications executive and venture capitalist who was elected in 2008, joins a growing chorus of moderates from both parties who have said restarting Simpson-Bowles would be good for the nation — and smart politics for Mr. Obama.

“If Obama makes his campaign about jobs and debt reduction — and endorses Simpson-Bowles in his Democratic National Convention acceptance speech — he can seize the center and win the bulk of independent voters,” Democratic strategist Lanny Davis wrote in his column Wednesday. “If he does that, he stands a good chance of not only winning re-election but doing so by landslide margins against a Republican nominee who by then will have painted himself into the far-right corners of the American electorate.”

The original Simpson-Bowles plan included about $1 trillion in tax increases and about $3 trillion in spending cuts spread over 10 years.