The ‘Gang of 64’ needs some help

THE ‘GANG OF 64’ NEEDS SOME HELP…. Late Friday, shortly before the Senate recessed and its members left town, a group of 64 senators sent a letter to President Obama, seeking some help on fiscal issues.

The group was organized by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and was deliberately perfect in its bipartisan qualities — it was co-signed by 32 Democrats and 32 Republicans, all of whom want the White House to back a “comprehensive” package to tackle the “critical” issue of deficit reduction. (One can apparently only dream of such an interest in job creation.)

Keep in mind, the Gang of 64 didn’t make any kind of policy recommendations. The letter seemed provocative by virtue of its endorsees, but the request of the president was itself bland and generic. The bipartisan senators want “a broad approach,” which helps reach “consensus,” and believes a White House endorsement of such an effort would send a “strong signal.”

This reflects a group of powerful lawmakers who agree with some vague goal, but nothing more.

Ezra Klein had a good item on the “theory of legislative action” that underscores the letter, which necessarily makes it “odd.”

In this letter, 64 senators manage to sound like an interest group begging the White House for support rather than a supermajority of the United States Senate — which is to say, a coalition of men and women who could, on their own, draft and pass the very legislation they’re talking about. Which raises the question: Why are they writing this letter rather than the legislation this letter claims to want?

If vague statements about “a broad approach to solving the problem” could solve the problem, the problem would be solved…. There are a lot of letters and statements about deficit reduction flying around, but precious little legislation. If the 64 senators who signed this letter wanted to write and vote for a bill, that’d be a pretty “strong signal.”

We see this fairly often, and it’s puzzling every time. I can appreciate the unique role the President of the United States plays as a sole chief executive, but Congress is its own branch of government. Senators, especially a massive, bipartisan group of 64, have the power to sit down, negotiate, and craft a policy that would achieve the goal these members ostensibly want to reach. If a consensus could be reached, it’d be filibuster-proof.

But instead of choosing to work on their desired outcome, they chose to write a letter, asking President Obama to endorse work on their desired outcome.

Presumably, the next step will be calls for additional “leadership,” from those who aren’t interested in demonstrating any leadership.

The president has already said he’d welcome progress on this issue, and is “prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to start dealing with” with fiscal issues “in a serious way.” So, what is it, exactly, these 64 are waiting for? The White House to do their homework for them? Obama to flash a thumbs-up at them, saying, “Sounds good; get to work”?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.