Challenges ahead for Chambliss-led bipartisan ‘gang’

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jan. 6, 2013

After two years of working toward a bipartisan budget deal, the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” was mostly sidelined as leaders negotiated a last-minute deal last week that put off fiscal reckoning for two months.

The gang, a self-appointed group led by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, has proposed a major budget accord to slash future deficits by $4 trillion through spending cuts, entitlement reforms and tax revenue increases. But so far it has not been able to build a critical mass of support — or even draft a bill — despite having passed two major crisis points that were meant to inspire a so-called grand bargain. A third arrives soon.

Experts on Congress and budget policy said the group has broken some of the partisan ice in the Senate, but their impact is unclear as they continue to ram up against entrenched leadership and interest groups at the parties’ poles.

Steve Bell of the Bipartisan Policy Center, who has worked with the group, said the gang in its present form is likely finished.

“They worked so hard for two full years in so many different ways and it just didn’t happen,” Bell said. “… They called for specifics that their party opposed, and they got nothing out of it.”