Sen. Warner: budget is tip of the debt spear

Wednesday - 3/16/2011, 10:31am EDT

Mark Warner, U.S. Senator

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

As part of continuing coverage of Congress's struggle to get a budget passed, Federal News Radio was told by The Hill's Erik Wasson to keep an eye on Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad. Wasson said he thinks Conrad is pinning his hopes on the "Gang of Six" to come up with a comprehensive plan that would allow a full FY 2012 budget to be passed.

So the Federal Drive asked one of the founders of the bipartisan group focusing on the national debt, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), what they've come up with so far.

"I don't want to get into the specifics," said Warner, "because we're in active negotiations right now, but the group of us three Democrats, three Republicans all recognize that unless we take on our national debt and our current year deficit, we're going to leave our country in a much weaker position."

However, Warner did make it clear that everything is on the table at this point, including both entitlement programs and the possibility of new taxes. "We're willing to because there have been the third rails of politics that we're all going to have to violate." Formerly "forbidden items" are going to have to be dealt with, said Warner, because "every day that we fail to act, we add $4 Billion dollars, with a B, to the national debt. Ultimately we're going to have to pay that off."

It seems what bothers Warner most about the bipartisan effort is the nickname that's been hung on them. "I'd love to be able to rename this from the 'Gang of Six' to the 'Group That Wants to Get Stuff Done'," he quipped.

"Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and I had made an absolute commitment that we weren't going to let that report (from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) just collect dust on a shelf, and I think we've kind of built, I hope at least built that level of trust that allows us on both sides to talk about the issues and recognize that some of the solutions aren't going to be immediately popular."

The group is considering all the recommendations made by the deficit commission, including longer pay freezes for federal employees. But Warner made it clear, he appreciates the work done by the federal workforce.

"What we're seeing right now is the current budget debate going on in Congress," said Warner, "which focuses almost entirely on domestic discretionary spending really goes to the heart of the programs that Americans want and our great federal employees provide, so the current path is even, I think, more devastating to federal employees because it really focuses on the programs where they work, particularly in these domestic discretionary programs and some of the related Defense programs."

As chair of the Senate Budget Committee's Task Force on Government Performance, Warner said he's looking at all ways money can be saved across government, including efficiencies.

As an example, he pointed to "a little bill that most folks have probably never heard of called the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act really hopes to become a tool that we can partner with our federal employees to try to urge those folks who work at agencies to not identify fifty different priorities. I know sometimes Congress keeps layering on additional priorities, additional reporting requirements. We're trying to clean out some of that underbrush. Actually have federal agencies eliminate ten percent of the reporting requirements. Have them identify programs that are truly successful. Have them identify programs that are unsuccessful. Who better than the federal employees who run these entities know where there may be areas that could...that aren't performing as well. If we're going to have to look at consolidation, and there's a GAO report out recently that I'm sure many of our federal employees are familiar with that talked about literally hundreds of programs that are duplicative and could potentially see consolidation, we hope that the work of this task force can help guide policymakers so you don't come in just with the meat ax and say 'Okay, we're cut everything across the board' without any real examination of what works and what doesn't work."

Warner said it's imperative that work on cutting debt begin now.

"It's not a question of if we're going to do deficit reduction," said Warner, "it's only a question of when. Are we going to do it now on our timelines or are we going to wait until the bond markets force us into more draconian actions the way we've seen in countries like Greece and Ireland."

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