Columns Opinion — 18 November 2011

When I asked Virginians in 2008 for the privilege of serving them in the United States Senate, I pledged to go to Washington to try to lead a radical bipartisan center that would work together to find common ground and solve our nations biggest challenges.

As our countrys $14.7 trillion national debt grows by more than $5 billion each day, and as a divided and dysfunctional Congress seemingly punts on responsible solutions to many of our toughest problems, is it any wonder that close to 9 in 10 Americans in a recent opinion poll said they strongly disapprove of the partisan gridlock they see in Washington?

At the beginning of August, Virginians witnessed an especially ugly and embarrassing political fight over raising the nations debt limit. The deal ultimately reached by Congress cut nearly $1 trillion in federal spending in the current budget, and created a bipartisan commission of six senators and six representatives to identify by Thanksgiving an additional $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in savings over the next decade.

I am hopeful this new commission will succeed, despite my belief that even $1.5 trillion in additional debt reduction is not nearly enough to truly begin fixing our nations finances. Thats why I have encouraged the 12 members of the Joint Select Committee to build upon the solid work and recommendations already proposed by several other bipartisan groups, including the Senates so-called Gang of Six, which I was proud to have formed earlier this year with my Republican colleague, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

Every independent, bipartisan analysis, including the Gang of Six, has concluded it will require at least $4 trillion in debt reduction to begin responsibly tackling our fiscal challenges. Every independent and bipartisan analysis also has concluded it will require a balanced approach that includes a blend of spending cuts, tax reform that eliminates some deductions while lowering overall tax rates, and phasing-in rational reforms to entitlement programs to protect and strengthen programs like Medicare and Social Security over the long-term.

We have a second chance to do the right thing with the creation of this Joint Select Committee, but we will never be successful unless we finally break out of our partisan trenches and agree to work together.

Thats why Sen. Chambliss and I have been reaching out to our Senate colleagues, on both sides of the political aisle, in a bipartisan effort to broaden and expand our Gang of Six. The response from our colleagues has been remarkable.

On September 15, more than one-third of the 100 members of the United States Senate stood with us to encourage the members of the Joint Select Committee to go beyond their mandate and reach for more than just $2.2 trillion in debt reduction.

In fact, 39 Senators in all 20 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one independent have now joined us to issue a strong, bipartisan appeal for the so-called super committee to go big. It was an impressive demonstration of bipartisan support and encouragement for their efforts.

This bipartisan statement by more than one-third of the members of the U.S. Senate may have been summed-up best by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski: If you dont leave here today feeling a little more confident that this Congress, or at least this Senate, can act together, not for the good of our respective parties but for the good of the American people, then I would suggest you didnt pay close enough attention to those who are gathered here today.

So yes, Virginia, I can tell you there is such a thing as a radical bipartisan center, and I am very proud to be one of its founding members.

The writer, formerly governor of Virginia, is an Alexandria resident member of the United States Senate, where he serves on the Banking, Budget, Commerce and Intelligence committees.

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