Just as the drama from the so-called "fiscal cliff" debate begins to simmer down, on the horizon is likely "another high-wire act or two" as Congress begins to debate spending cuts, the debt ceiling, and gun control, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said today during a panel discussion on "Face the Nation."
Though Flake echoed remarks made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier in the program, predicting that "debt and deficits are going to dominate" Congress over the next two or three months, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., argued that reviewing gun laws, in the wake of the tragic shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month that killed 20 children and six adults, should be a top-billed priority.
"I don't think we should wait three months to get this done," Murphy said. "I think we should get it done now, and I frankly think if we did that, it would save lives. ...If [the Newtown shooter] didn't have an assault weapon - if he only had a cartridge with 10 bullets rather than 30 bullets - there would still be little boys and girls alive today. It absolutely makes a difference. It's common-sense gun legislation. It's supported by hunters all across Connecticut, and all across this country."
Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., said he's waiting to see what comes out of a task force on the issue headed by Vice President Joe Biden, but corroborated Murphy's argument.
"I'm a hunter - I believe in second amendment rights," Nolan said. "But you know what? I don't need an assault weapon to shoot a duck. And I think they ought to be banned, and I think we ought to put a ban on the amount of shells you can carry in a magazine. And I think we have to strengthen our background checks."
But making many conservatives' case that a ban on assault weapons would violate the Constitution, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said he "can't support anything that violates any of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, and I do not believe that impeding on people's right to bear arms is the right answer."
Perhaps even more pressing, though, is yet another budget battle in the coming months - a perfect storm fashioned by the sequester going into effect, and Republican leadership's demand to match any increase in the debt ceiling with commensurate spending cuts.
Murphy said he hopes in the coming months "Republicans don't do what they did a year and a half ago, which is essentially hold the entire country's economy hostage to their demands." He said that while he agrees with Flake and others in the GOP who say priority needs to be assigned to reducing spending, he also agrees with what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said earlier on the show: Tax code reform is needed to help squeeze out further revenue.
Across the table, only Salmon would endorse outright an op-ed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Houston Chronicle on Saturday that said the GOP should be prepared to shut down parts of the government if they can't get to where they want to be on spending cuts. When the government shut down in 1995, it "actually gave us the impetus, as we went forward, to push toward some real serious compromise," Salmon said.
"It shouldn't take that," Flake said, but added that while he "would agree that the debt limit is not the optimal leverage point to use... we've got to use everything at our disposal to actually cut spending - and nothing has worked so far."
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., warned that if lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are serious about bringing down the deficit, "then let's not polarize it right off the bat."
"I see no reason to shut down the government," Kelley said. "The president agrees - he said we need to get spending under control. Both Republicans and Democrats agree. Now, let's get started on it."