A "new standard" of compromise ahead for Congress?


(CBS News) Two days after $1.2 trillion worth of sequester cuts sliced blindly across the federal budget in the face of lawmakers' inability to agree on an alternative, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., today on "Face the Nation" predicted a "new standard" for compromise on Capitol Hill's horizon.

There's "real, positive" bipartisan dialogue playing out in the Senate, Durbin said, lauding Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. - who appeared in the segment before him - for their work with him in the gang of eight senators crafting an immigration reform bill.

"I hope what I'm seeing is that we're trying to establish a new standard in the Senate - a bipartisan dialogue that might lead to a solution," Durbin said. "I think people who have given up on Congress would be encouraged to know there's a real positive dialogue, bipartisan dialogue, and perhaps - just perhaps - we can set the stage for an even more positive dialogue when it comes to the budget."

Upcoming work on the 2013 continuing resolution (CR) - the stopgap funding measure set to expire March 27 - "creates an opportunity for us to sit down - the president and congressional leaders - and come up with an answer that is sensible to deal with sequestration, as well as with the remainder of this year," Durbin said.

A senator for 16 of his 30 years in Congress, Durbin said while he's "been through some pretty rough periods of time," he's never seen gridlock cage legislation as much as it has over the past several years.

"I don't want to point fingers, but I will: The House Republican approach to this is, we're either going to do it exclusively with Republicans or we just won't do it at all," he said. "Only when they're pushed to absolute extremes will they allow a bipartisan vote."

Last week, Graham and McCain visited the White House at President Obama's invitation to discuss their work on immigration. Forging ahead with a possible bill to replace the sequester, Graham said, will require similar meetings.

"You can blame both groups because at the end of the day, it's going to take both of us to do it," Graham said. "Mr. President, you play the role of Ronald Reagan, we'll be Tip O'Neill. You just change the roles around. We can do the big deal, if we have some leadership."

Sequestration went into effect Friday amid a standoff between Mr. Obama and House Republicans over whether to partner spending cuts with additional revenue through tax hikes. Graham argued there's about $600 billion worth of revenue that Republicans can offer up in a deal to replace the blind, across-the-board sequester cuts, but none of it will come from raising taxes.

"This is an opportunity for Congress to take us off the road to becoming Greece," Graham said. "What I would like to see happen is that the president and Republicans and Democrats reengage where they left off with [House Speaker John] Boehner; that we as Republicans put $600 billion, somewhere in that neighborhood, of new revenue on the table by flattening the tax code, eliminating deductions and exemptions."

A substitute plan, which may materialize in the coming weeks as Congress works toward an extension or replacement of the CR, Graham said, needs to be in the form of a "big," long-term plan.

"...I'm not going to do any more small deals," Graham said. "I'm not going to raise taxes to fix sequestration. We don't need to raise taxes to fund the government; we need to raise taxes to get our nation out of debt - we have $16.7 trillion in debt. We need to clean up our tax code to create jobs by flattening it out, not fixing sequestration with more money."

Appearing in the same segment, McCain joined Graham in blasting the disproportionate hit to defense, which absorbs about 50 percent of the cuts.

"Tell me a higher priority than national security," McCain said. "We have now reached a point where, if you believe our military leaders... we will not have the proper training, readiness, equipment, in order to defend our national security issues and requirements. The centrifuges in Tehran are spinning, North Koreans are testing nuclear weapons, the Middle East is in a period of varying degrees of upheaval. Al Qaeda is spreading. So we're going to cut back on the training and readiness and capabilities the men and women who are serving?

"We have an all-volunteer force," McCain continued. "They deserve better. And to my Republican friends as well as my Democrat friends: If you think that's the right way to go, then you don't know what's going on in the world."

McCain and Graham argued down the proposal to grant flexibility to the president to determine how to distribute the cuts.

"We spent three weeks on the floor of the Senate, hundreds of amendments, hours and hours of debate shaping a Defense Authorization bill which authorizes the president how to train, equip and man the military of the United States of America," McCain said. "So we're supposed to just say, forget all that, you do whatever you want, Mr. President? That isn't the way the Constitution dictates that we behave."

Predicting a "hollow force" over 10 years of cuts to the Defense Department, Graham agreed: "No amount of flexibility in the world will fix this."

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    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.