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'Gang Of Eight' Trying To Steer Clear Of Fiscal Cliff


Even during the heat of the campaign, a bipartisan group of eight senators was meeting to try to hash out a framework for deficit reduction to steer clear of that fiscal cliff. The so-called Gang of Eight - four Democrats and four Republicans - includes Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, who joins me now. Welcome to the program.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Thanks for having me, Melissa.

BLOCK: Senator Warner, we have seen deficit reduction recommendations for the Simpson-Bowles commission that went nowhere, gangs of senators have worked on this before and have come and gone. Why should we think that your Gang of Eight should have any more success than they did?

WARNER: Well, the election's over and the American people have spoken. I think they've said they want us to continue generally in the same direction, but they want us to work more closely together. I think there are large numbers of senators and I think there are even large numbers of House members who are willing to now - to kind of chuck their Democrat and Republican hats, put the country first.

And any reasonable person who's looked at this issue - business leaders, others - have said you've got to generate some additional revenues, you've got to make our entitlement programs sustainable for the long haul, and you're going to have to cut back on some additional government spending. Those three component parts there is broad-based agreement on.

Working through what that looks like has been where the rubber hits the road and I hope that our group and others can help contribute to the solution set.

BLOCK: Senator Warner, you mentioned generating additional revenues in the message that you took from the election. Let me ask you about what House Speaker John Boehner said. He said the message from that election is the American people have made clear there is no mandate for raising taxes. He's taking away a very different lesson from the electorate than you are.

WARNER: Well, there are raising revenues and raising revenues. There's raising revenues from tax reform. There's raising - continuing to simply allow the law to move forward, which would have expiration of some or all of the Bush tax cuts. There are, I think, a lot of ways we can get to the question of how we generate the kind of revenues which, you know, historically have been (unintelligible) percent of our GDP that we need - not to grow government but just to basically pay our bills and to start paying down this $16 trillion debt.

As a business guy, I know as well, you cannot cut or tax your way alone out of this problem. You're going to have to have a growth component to the economy, making sure, as any good business person would, you invest in your workforce, you invest in you infrastructure, you invest in R&D to stay ahead of the competition around the world. You know, a growing economy is also a very powerful tool on bringing down our debt.

BLOCK: I'm still not clear how you would convince Republicans, many of whom have signed the Grover Norquist pledge not to raise taxes, to join you in that.

WARNER: Well, Melissa, I would again point to the fact that in the Senate we have, at this point, 23 Republicans who have agreed to work around the principles of the Gang of Six. I know there are others who said, you know, Mark, and others, well, sign me up. Once we get through the election, they're going to have their chance to participate. And I know the president will lead on this.

And the business community, which for the most part to date on this issue has kind of sat on the sidelines, is now organized underneath the rubric of the campaign to fix the debt and that kind of broad-based institutional support, that's a new factor to the equation as well.

BLOCK: You said you expect the president to be taking the lead on this. Do you think President Obama should have been doing more on this? Complaints have been lodged that he was on the sidelines, that he was not an active participant in these talks that led to this fiscal cliff.

WARNER: I absolutely reject that. I mean, the president laid out a plan, fought for that plan. He was supportive, actually, of our bipartisan plan when we came out, the Gang of Six, during the debt ceiling debate. But kind of going back and rehashing how we got there doesn't really solve the problem. The problem is, where do we go from here? You know, every day that we don't act, this problem gets tougher and harder to get out of. And again, it's going to require both parties finding that common ground.

BLOCK: That's Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. He's a member of a bipartisan group of senators searching for a way to avoid the fiscal cliff. We also invited Republican members of the group to talk with us today, but none were available. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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