For the past several months, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) worked with a small, relatively secretive group of lawmakers looking to cut a historic bipartisan deal to cut spending and reform broad swaths of the government.
That description of the Gang of Six, led by Warner and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), also sounds quite a bit like the “super committee” that will soon be appointed by Congress’ four top leaders. So does that past work make Warner the first person top Democrats want on the new panel, or the last?
So far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has shed little light on who he intends to appoint to fill Senate Democrats’ three slots on the 12-member panel. But he did give a hint at a news conference this week.
“It’s extremely important that I pick people who are willing to make hard choices but are not locked in,” Reid said.
Warner — who has cultivated a reputation as a moderate dealmaker in Washington and Richmond — would seem to fit that criteria. And he has gotten some home state support for the post, with the Roanoke Times editorializing this week: “Only a committee composed of reasonable, pragmatic lawmakers like Warner has any chance of producing a balanced package of tax reform, discretionary spending cuts and entitlement reform.”
Warner has made it clear that he’d like to be on the committee, but he’s also said he doesn’t see much chance of winning one of the three Senate Democratic seats — because he wants to tackle entitlement reform and tax reform on a much broader scope than is envisioned by the new committee.
“The fact that I’m willing to do that probably means that I’m not actually going to get on the committee,” Warner said on Fox News. “I don’t actually expect to get on the committee. ... I also know that chances are that there will be enormous pressure on leadership in both parties to put members that might not be willing to be as bold.”
It’s also true that some liberal Democrats inside and outside the Senate were irritated with Warner and Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), believing they gave up too much ground in the Gang of Six to Republicans. So they don’t want to see a repeat performance.
But it’s also possible that Warner could have an indirect role in the super committee’s final product even if he doesn’t ever serve on the panel.
As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on the No Labels radio show on Voice of America this week, the Gang of Six “did come up with a proposal that I think will be a blueprint for the way we have to move forward if we are ever going to get this debt and deficit under control.”