“Days after President Obama called for forming a bipartisan group in Congress to begin negotiating a $4 trillion debt-reduction package, the parties have not even agreed to its membership. Yet six senators — three Democrats, three Republicans — say they are nearing consensus on just such a plan

“For Republicans, that means accepting higher taxes and lower military spending. For Democrats, it would mean agreeing to curbs on the unsustainable growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending, as well as tweaks to Social Security, to avert a big shortfall in 2037 and as a trade-off for Republicans’ support on taxes…

“‘As I said to a Republican recently,’ Mr. Durbin said in an interview, ‘it’s like we’re on a long flight here and we’ve come so far there’s no turning back — we’ve got to land the plane.’…

“Mr. Chambliss has been increasingly outspoken in arguing that additional revenues must be part of a debt-reduction plan, given the scale of the problem.

“‘I’m taking arrows from some on the far right,’ he told the Rotary Club of Atlanta in an appearance with Mr. Warner on Monday. ‘Are some people going to pay more in taxes? You bet.'”

***
Q: Let me ask you about some of your language of the last few days on this front. In your speech about the long-term deficit plan, you said that the Republican alternative is deeply pessimistic. And in your political fundraisers here in Chicago last night, you said the Republicans don’t think we can afford to be compassionate. As you run for re-election, is that how you see the Republican vision? Are the Republican leaders lacking compassion and they’re pessimistic?

A: Well, I think that they genuinely believe and sincerely believe that the only way to get control of our deficit is to slash spending so drastically and to fundamentally change the social compact we have with seniors around Medicare that we would have a fundamentally different society than the one that we have now. And I don’t think there’s any disputing that. I think if you talk to Republicans, they would nod in agreement. Now, if you look at the House Republican budget that they’ve proposed, you would have to cut education by 25 percent; you’d have to cut transportation spending by 30 percent. It does make Medicare into a voucher program. That fundamentally changes our society. It’s not compelled by the numbers; it’s compelled by their insistence that people like myself, millionaires and billionaires across the country, shouldn’t pay anything more in taxes, shouldn’t go back to the rates that existed back in the 1990s, when wealthy people were doing well — and, in fact, they want to give more tax breaks to those folks. Now, I think they’re entirely sincere in believing that that’s the kind of society that we should want. I just fundamentally disagree with it. I don’t know how we have a world-class infrastructure where we have the best ports, the best roads, the best airports, the best railways —

Q: You said they might lead us to third world —

A: Well, literally, if you look at the numbers, we could not afford to repair our roads in this country under their budget. We couldn’t afford to provide the kind of financial assistance that we provide to poor kids or middle-class kids to go to college. We just couldn’t afford it. We could not afford under the budget that they’ve proposed to invest in medical research in the way that we’re currently doing. So that’s what I mean when I say that it is a pessimistic vision. It’s one that says that America can no longer do some of the big things that made us great, that made us the envy of the world, and so we’re going to leave it to China or we’re going to leave it to Japan or we’re going to leave it Brazil to make these big investments, to have the new discoveries. And that’s not I think how most of us think America should be.

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“Our nation is facing a $14.3 trillion national debt that our own military leaders call the greatest threat to our national security. In these challenging times, we need real leadership to bring us together. As Americans, there is not a problem that we can’t solve if we are together. And unfortunately, in his speech this week on the deficit, President Obama took us three steps backwards.

“Instead of describing the threat and bringing both sides together, the president attacked those who have a different vision of the government

“Entitlement spending alone accounts for more than 80 percent of our long-term debt burden but the president’s plan exempts these programs from reform. By pretending that Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security are sound financially when they are not, the president is jeopardizing the benefits for the very Americans he says he wants to protect…

“The president says he wants to use a scalpel, but as a physician, let me tell you, when it comes to waste and duplication at the federal government level, we don’t need a scalpel. We need a chain saw.”

***
“In divided government, I think it helps if we treat each other with respect. There’s plenty of time for campaigning. Look, the president doesn’t have a primary opponent, he doesn’t even have an announced Republican opponent yet. There’s plenty of time for him to do campaigning later. Right now we’ve got things to do, we’ve got problems to solve, and so I think it would just be more productive if we put the campaign rhetoric aside… Both parties have done this to each other. I’m not saying only one party does this, but I think the tone gets set at the top…

“[Obama] appointed a fiscal commission last year to come up with solutions. They came up with solutions. He disavowed their solutions, and now he’s coming up with yet another commission to come up with solutions. My point is we need to lead, and we shouldn’t be delegating these tough decision to other people to make… We’re going to lead, we’re putting ideas out there, and we’re not kicking it to other people to make decisions like other commissions…”