There's a New Act in Town

There's a new dynamic duo in town. While the Tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina brought us the tag team of Presidents Bush and Clinton, deficit reduction brings us Mark Warner and Saxby Chambliss, who held a bipartisan meeting on the issue in Richmond, VA yesterday with a promise of one to follow in Atlanta.

Deficit reduction as a cause celebre might be a harder task for Warner and Chambliss in the way that Bush and Clinton did for their humanitarian effort. (Just ask the original deficit duo Simpson and Bowles.) But there's more to it than that.

Spending cuts and their inevitable impact on social welfare programs is so entrenched within the larger culture wars that having a sane and rational conversation on the issue is close to impossible. To single out a Democratic issue, Ann Friedman wrote that attacks on reproductive rights are a result of decades of compromise. The House's bill to defund Planned Parenthood is part and parcel of how federal spending is deeply tied to political causes, and because of the seemingly uncrossable chasm on social issues, will continue to be grist for partisans who want to dig in their heels in. (To see a Republican example of this check out Gail Collins piece on DoD funding of NASCAR.)

I wish Warner and Chambliss luck on their quest for public support, but they may be preaching bipartisanship on the deficit to the wrong crowds. Their target should be their parties' ideologues who tie federal money to social issues (fairly so in many instances), see the larger budget talks as an attack on those issues, and don't want to cede political ground to the opposite side.