Now that President Obama has released his budget, the challenge facing Congress is resolving the many differences between the three spending outlines (the House, Senate, and presidential budgets), before October 1, 2013, the start of the new fiscal year. Given the success of the Gang of Eight on immigration reform and the agreement worked out on firearm background checks by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), it now appears the old deficit reduction Gang of Eight may be resurrected. Given that bipartisanship may be returning, this could mean we will see an acceptable proposal to reduce the deficit this year.
This would not be the first attempt to create a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit. First there was the Gang of Six, then the Gang of Eight. In 2010, President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that gave us the Simpson-Bowles report. Then, Congress gave it one last try, passing the Budget Control Act 2011 that gave us the sequester.
Apparently while all this was going on, Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chamblis (R-Ga.), both members of the Gang of Eight, continued to talk. "We have never stopped talking," said Senator Warner. "The only way we get something done is bipartisan." According to Politico, other original members could return along with potential new members Senators Susan Collins (R–Maine), Lamar Alexander (D-Tenn.), Johnny Iskason (R-Ga.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), or Pat Toomey (R-Penn.).
What could allow this attempt to succeed where others have failed? President Obama has shown he may be willing to take a more active role. His recent dinners with senators and representatives and meetings with Congressional leaders have created a slightly more positive atmosphere. His budget, with its recommend changes to Social Security and Medicare, could indicate he is willing to confront the more progressive wing of his party. For any bipartisan deal to be reached, the president’s leadership is considered critical. While approval of their performance is still around 13%, the use of the word "gridlock" appears to be declining. And in what could be even more telling, 59 members of Congress from both parties (55 representatives and four senators) have signed on as Problem Solvers, a group put together by No Labels committed to work across the aisle to reach bipartisan solutions. The membership in this group is increasing almost daily.
No legislation has yet been introduced. It's still early in this session of Congress. Immigration reform legislation is supposed to be introduced this coming week, and debate on gun control legislation will start this month. If bipartisanship is indeed returning, we will know very soon. If there is movement on immigration and gun control, the Gang of Eight on deficit reduction could be encouraged to reconvene. If that were to happen, the 113th Congress could end up being very productive.