Mark Warner’s SuperDuperCongress

I find it amusing that two guys who are on the Senate Intelligence Committee–Mark Warner and Saxby Chambliss–hosted a “secret meeting” that got reported just two days later.

The private gathering this week, held Wednesday in a Capitol meeting room, included about 25 centrists from both parties. It was organized by Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), two members of the “Gang of Six,” which tried unsuccessfully to engineer a grand deal patterned loosely after the plan laid out by the deficit commission headed by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former senator Alan Simpson.

Though perhaps they should blame Bob Corker and Holy Joe Lieberman, who both blabbed about the meeting on the record.

When I first read about this secret cabal of 25 Senators meeting to cut! cut! cut!–what I’ll call SuperDuperCongress to highlight how stupid our Senators are and to emphasize their apparent self-importance–I didn’t pay much attention.

But then I realized (having not read closely to the bottom the first time) that this was an effort of Mark Warner, who lobbied vocally, but unsuccessfully, to get named to SuperCongress. And I recalled a look to kill that Jack Reed sent Mark Warner’s way in the pre-speech pomp last night.

Which got me thinking about what Warner’s SuperDuperCongress is trying to do–aside from put the interests of the banksters even further ahead of real people.

While the article notes that, like Warner’s SuperDuperCongress, Obama wants SuperCongress to cut more than they’ve been tasked to do, several of the comments from the article send a clear message that at least some SuperDuperCongress members think their efforts matter a lot more than Obama’s pitch for jobs.

“I don’t think I’m speaking out of school that it was a unanimous feeling among a large group of senators from both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), one of the meeting participants. “Most people are far more focused on this supercommittee than any speech the president’s going to give.


Several people familiar with the discussions said the lawmakers felt that, after the pomp and ceremony of Obama’s joint-session speech fades, the center of political and policy gravity on Capitol Hill will be the work of the special committee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.).


One senior Democratic aide called Obama’s jobs plan largely “dead on arrival” because its expected price tag would roughly cancel out the one year’s worth of savings many lawmakers hope the supercommittee will find.

So while there’s every reason to believe Obama would be sympathetic to this effort (and it’s likely that Obama ally Dick Durbin, another member of the Gang of Six, is among the 25), at least some of the participants in Mark Warner’s SuperDuperCongress are basically saying, “Fuck Obama and the jobs bill he needs to pass to get reelected, we’re more interested in cutting.”

This also seems like an attack on Harry Reid’s authority. He, after all, picked Patty Murray, Max Baucus, and John Kerry for SuperCongress. Not only did he shun the Democratic Gang of Six members (along with Warner and Durbin, Kent Conrad), but he happened to pick Max Baucus, who voted against the Catfood Commission because it did things like cut social security (which the Gang of Six aimed to cut using chained COLA, among other means). And while I think John Kerry is the weak link among SuperCongress Democrats, on paper at least the three Senators seem likely to be able to meet the demands of House Democrats, who want programs for the poor protected in a way the Gang of Six and Catfood Commission weren’t much interested in.

Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of SuperDuperCongress. It seems like a bunch of Democrats have decided to pre-empt Obama’s push for jobs, but also try an end-run around those Democrats in the House who still believe in the New Deal and the Democratic Party’s legacy.

27 replies
  1. phred says:

    Ah nothing like a little political infighting to cheer a person right up. The more they bicker with each other, the less likely that they will pass anything.

    And if we are lucky, their constituents will get wind of their machinations and send them packing. Admittedly harder to do for Senators than Reps, but not impossible, especially when the public opinion of Congress is so low…

  2. emptywheel says:

    @allan: Gotta say, telling him he was dead wrong on Iran and ignoring Pakistan as a result was one of my most useful moments as a blogger.

    Unfortunately, according to the stupid Matt Bai, had I not done so, he would have run for POTUS (and crashed and burned). Instead, he ran and won the Senate seat.

    Maybe I should have let him crash and burn.

  3. rosalind says:

    (gonna have to root around my closet and see if i still have that hideous Mark Warner t-shirt he inflicted on we first Yearly Kos conventioneers and burn that fucker)

  4. orionATL says:

    “i’m not sure what to make…”

    well, ew, one thing you can “make” of this happening, for damned sure,

    is that 1/4 of the senate showing up for a “political colloquiem” is a matter of cosequence – how does “the gang of 25 ” sound to you?

    another thing you can make of this, prima facie, is that mark warner is a leader,

    a leader whom substantial numbers of other senators – repeat, 1/4 of the entire senate – will follow.

    rather than sneering at warner, the investigative reporter might want to know what is it that warner is selling that other senators are buying?

    warner is not a fool, is not corrupt, and may well be as liberal as you or i.

    so what is going on?

    there is reporting that needs doing but is not being done.

    maybe the wapo or nytimes will explain the mystery of warner’s attractiveness to 25% of the senate.

  5. orionATL says:

    ew –

    some dems ( the gang if 25 – repubs) may well be saying “f€£k obama”


    may well be saying “f€¥k harry reid”,

    but have you not been saying the same for some time?

    revolution comes in strange ways.

    we may be witnessing a revolution being born.

    in the u.s. senate?

    unlikely to be sure, but not impossible.

  6. orionATL says:

    @Phil Perspective:

    “phil perspective”?

    that’s a joke, right?

    “EVEN kos wants nothing to do with him”…

    and what, pray tell, does that signify?

    kos, you’ll recall was the moron who led his ditto heads in a furious, exceptionally rude and thoughtless, hell for leather charge for – guess who ?

    why barack obama, that’s who.

    so kos, you tell us, will have nothing to do with warner?


    that is an exceptionally good omen for the nation.

  7. host says:

    I read posts in these EW discussions expressing opinions similar to one in “Obama’s Infrastructure Request Is 1/40 1/25th of What We Need” stating that “we know where the money has to come from, annual incomes above $100k…” or words to that effect. From my own experience, I suspect this thinking plays into the hands of those who dismiss the income tax increase demands on above average incomes, with the talking point that you could tax the income of everyone making over X amount, 100 percent annually, and it still wouldn’t increase revenue enough to eliminate the deficit.

    The greater problem is wealth concentrated at the crisis level of 87.3 percent in the hands of the wealthiest 20 percent, as opposed to the lesser problem of an insufficiently progressive income tax.

    As recently as in Y 2000, the federal inheritance tax was 50 percent above an exempted $600k of assets of each partner in a marriage. If properly planned for tax avoidance purposes, the second spouse to die could bequest $600k plus $600k inherited from the first spouse to die.

    Avoiding the 50 percent and higher inheritance tax on amounts above the $1.2 million joint exemption is an industry, complete with lobbyists, heft campaign contributions and a sophisticated propaganda apparatus renaming it as the “death tax”.

    The success of the lobbying by concentrated wealth entirely eliminated the tax in 2010, and it has emerged again in the form of a 35 percent tax with the first $5 million exempted from tax.

    Loop holes in the years before the Bush tax cuts resulted in the creation of inheritance tax shelters in the form of trusts which financed the mostly conservative think tanks and many other anti tax or “non partisan” not for profit entities.

    Almost everyone not involved in estate tax planning or in possession of several or more millions of dollars is not aware that the wealthiest have always had another means of sheltering their estates from inheritance tax, they have just been too greedy to resort to it, as propaganda and manipulation of the political system has been a cheaper approach.

    I view wealth concentration trend, since it shows no sign of abating, as the crisis which we must hone in on, confirmed by the success the wealthiest have had in eroding the inheritance tax, and the tell; you won’t hear or see Obama highlighting inheritance tax reform as the true, best, and potentially rapidest way to blunt and reverse the madness and the fiscal crisis.

    The shelter the wealthiest have always enjoyed, at least the married couples, with known and certain heirs, has been “second to die” insurance policies. A couple in good health as elderly as in their early 60’s, can shelter each million dollars of their wealth by their heirs funding and owning at a premium payment of less than $1500/month per million dollars of death benefit, a life insurance policy payable upon the death of the second spouse to die, the event that triggers the inheritance tax on the amount of the formerly jointly held estate above the exempted amount, currently $5 million. If a couple anticipates leaving an estate of $8 million, a second to die policy of one million in death benefits, at a cost of less than $1500 per month, would pay almost all of the 35 percent inheritance tax owed on the non-exempt $3 million portion of the $8 million estate.

    The catch is the requirement that the actual beneficiary of this type of insurance policy must be someone outside of the estate ownership, and must fund the policy with funds not owned by the estate. The wealthiest have the option of employing the heir, preferably through a business entity they own or control. If that entitiy is a “C” corporation, the heir can be paid both a salary that can then be uses to fund the second to die insurance premiums, and a benefits package, all fully deductible as business expenses by the corporation. If the heir is already an employee of an existing family controlled corporation the funds needed to pay the insurance premiums can be paid in the form of an annual bonus.

    If we hope to change the status quo and quiet the talking points from the right, we must attack wealth concentration as effectively as it is possible to do so. We can neutralize the tired and misleading argument that the majority of estates subject to federal inheritance tax are family owned farms and small businesses, which will be subjected to forced liquidation to pay the high and “unfair death taxes”, with a condensed description of the information displayed in this post. The Life Insurance, tax planning, and accountancy industries are potential advocates to spread this message.

    The argument and lobbying must also include a message to politicians that cutting SS and Medicare can only be even considered after all inheritance tax loopholes are closed, and trust tax law reformed, eliminating entities such as the Scaife Foundation, and insisting that we will settle for nothing less than a restoration of the pre-Bush inheritance tax rate schedule, sans loopholes, with an inflation adjusted exemption level mirroring the SS cola.

    The wealthiest had nothing to lose when they went on a campaign to take apart the “death tax”, we have nothing to lose by embarking on a campaign to put it back together, vastly improved. The legal shelter option the wealthiest have been too greedy to resort to, “second to die life insurance” must become a part of every potential voter and SS recipients’ vocabulary. Obama knows every detail that is in this post, at least as well as I do. Make him own that duplicitous flaw!

  8. Mauimom says:

    @emptywheel: For a long time I’ve been speculating that Obama would pick Warner as his VP in 2012. [Winning Virginia, and all.]

    This makes it sound like “not so much.”

  9. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Actually, he is stupid–or rather, prone to accepting the CW uncritically, as he did when he said Iran was the biggest WMD threat to this country.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the mushy middle of similarly CW=minded Senators joined him. But I find it incredibly dangerous they’re back to their efforts to cut social programs to combat an enemy–the deficit–that is just as badly conceived as Iran the biggest WMD threat was.

  10. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Well, it is significant that a guy who once championed Warner’s presidential campaign doesn’t want anything to do with him. You see, people who have followed Warner’s trajectory aren’t impressed by him.

  11. emptywheel says:

    @Mauimom: Eh, we shall see. Like I said, it’s tough to know what to make of this. Obama would still like the Catfood Commission outcome, which is what Warner has been pushing. So it may be Obama is thrilled to have someone in Congress effectively working to undercut the progressives on Congress.

  12. scribe says:

    Not for nothing, but Blankfein’s houseservant enabled all of this beginning the dayt after he won the election in 08, by telling Harry Reid to let Lieberman keep his committee chair and seniority. Every time the Senate starts wandering aimlessly to kill something useful to people other than plutocrats, it all comes back to Obama ratifying Lieberman’s bad conduct.

    Senators saw they could get away with anything and pay no price for it. Senators Snowe and Collins, playing Hamlet on whether this or that health care tweak would be acceptable (and now, on whether there are too many jobs being created by a proposal or not). And so on. The examples are legion.

    It all points back to Obama.

  13. klynn says:


    “But I find it incredibly dangerous they’re back to their efforts to cut social programs to combat an enemy–the deficit–that is just as badly conceived as Iran the biggest WMD threat was.”

    This is a great quote. Thank you.

  14. klynn says:


    EW, Progressives would be uber smart to latch on to your point of that quote and use it over and over and draw ALL the comparisons.

    That quote has amzing power the more I think about it. You could expand that quote into a post or a series of posts. You make a point that should be made over and over. I hope you know how great that specific point happens to be.

  15. rosalind says:

    @KWinIA: (mmm, maybe you should take a picture of it first for use in future Mark Warner posts…i think the scale of his humongous head on that shirt captures the man rather well.)

  16. Peterr says:

    Only in the Village would Chambliss be called a “centrist”.

    Per his wiki:

    On abortion issues, the ratings given Chambliss as of 2007 by National Right to Life Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America identify him as having an anti-abortion voting record. The National Right to Life Committee gave him a 100% rating, while NARAL Pro-Choice America gave him a 0% rating.

    On 2nd Amendment issues, in 2008, the NRA gave Chambliss an “A+” rating and the NRA also endorsed him.

    On agricultural issues, the American Farm Bureau gave Chambliss its “Friend of the Farm Bureau” award throughout his service in the U.S. Senate.

    On economic issues including voting on the national budget, national spending, and taxes, in 2007, the National Tax Limitation Committee gave Chambliss a 90% rating, and the group Americans for Tax Reform gave him a 100% rating.

    On civil liberties and civil rights issues, in 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gave him a 17% rating, and the NAACP gave him a 27% rating. The Human Rights Campaign gave him a 0% rating for 2005-2006 and a 20% rating for 2007-2008.

    On education issues, in 2008, the Center for Education Reform, gave Chambliss a score of 9 out of 9, and called him a “real reformer”, while the National Education Association gave him an “F” in 2007.

    On organized labor issues, in 2007 the AFL-CIO gave Chambliss a 11% rating, and the International Foodservice Distributors Association gave him an 85% rating.

    On environmental issues, in 2003 the League of Conservation Voters gave Chambliss a 0% rating.

    But if all those numbers are a bit much, Chambliss’ “centrism” can be debunked with two words: Max Cleland.

  17. JohnLopresti says:

    I still like ex-governor Warner’s advocacy for Virginia viticulture; having studied the classical problems with that region’s pest and climate obstacles to modern winegrape growing and enology, I appreciated his experimentsin that regard.

    I thought the then campaign-waters testing rhetoric he employed, in a soiree, voicing a rejoinder, ‘?Do I look stupid?’, at the Las Vegas needle, a trifle excessively inexperienced for a national scale campaign approach. He tried to upend the ad hominem approach he might encounter in a small brekout meeting at that conference, by challenging his own narrowband outlooks. That occurred during the same session in which ‘wheel pursued the questioning on south central Asia, to his chagrin.

    I also like the ex-governor’s appreciation, reported, for bluegrass music.

    However, some of his concepts of the justice system seemed draconian, geared more to supporting the politics of social regression rather than his recognizing modern psychiatric research.

    So, I agree with the commenters depicting Warner as too glibly opting for reactionary, poorly thought out, but politically hyperbolic policies.

    Nor do I have difficulty with government-excess cost cutting; but immersing thriftiness, as an outlook, in the politics of accentuating class conflict is more aligned with Republican polity in these times than with true oversight and auditing. I think Virginia is not as reactionary as several of Warner’s personal platform planks.

    Lbj and Lieberman both had drawbacks similar to Warner’s, with respect to the Democratic party’s leadership seeking to form a progressive ticket. Historically, only concurrent social movements kept lbJ on a short tether after he got to be president; and Lieberman lost his prime chance to ascendancy somewhere amid the Brooks Brothers rebellion. I am hoping Warner is intelligent, but that he applies a more modern and national, even international, perspective to his value systems. Some bluegrass, I have heard it said, is strong on virtuosity but light on innovativeness. I have no idea if Bolten and the compassionates might be looking for an accompanist, but Warner ought not to try to audition. Someone ought to tell MW the Compassionates are Republicans. Next waltz.

  18. emptywheel says:

    @JohnLopresti: Nice comment. Thanks.

    I also think part of Warner’s arrogance about his centrist views comes from having succeeded at Governor during a period when VA was benefiting mightily from massive stimulus (MIC) coming into his state. As I’ve said before, I think Warner is very similar to Jennifer Granholm, who I personally like. But she got a huge recession, he got huge stimulus, and that makes all the difference.

  19. orionATL says:


    you got that part right.

    but how politicians are rated over a range of activities on the one hand


    what they will do in a given (possibly extreme) situation is not easily predicted.

    much of the voting material you cite reflects not only who chambliss is, but what his constituents expect of him.

    my personal view of chambliss is that he is a rather nasty piece of work,

    rather like barack obama.

    a man who values grasping and holding onto power more than he values anything else.

    a competent leader would understand how to work with the devil in this form, would he not, peterr?

  20. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Right. But since we know what outcome Warner and Chambliss are pursuing–not just the bad recommendations of the Catfood Commission, but a shift of focus from jobs to more deficit cutting–we can pretty confidently say it’s a disastrous effort led by people who don’t understand (or refuse to place) America’s best interest.

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