Alumni of 1990 Fiscal Talks Offer Lessons for 'Cliff' Walkers

November 30, 2012

If Washington’s budgetary gladiators are to avoid the fiscal cliff, then they need to work in smaller groups; avoid the media; dismiss objections from colleagues, core constituents and lobbyists; and put the good of the country before their own political futures.

Such was the rough consensus among a panel of veterans of the historic 1990 Andrews Air Force Base budget talks that produced a $500 billion deficit reduction package and the Budget Enforcement Act that eased record deficits and was credited with helping set straight the country’s finances for much of the 1990s.

The old-home-week event in a Senate hearing room Wednesday reunited such erstwhile headline names as former House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash.; former White House chief of staff and New Hampshire Republican Gov. John Sununu; former Senate Budget Committee leader Pete Domenici, R-N.M.; and former Reps. Dave Obey, D-Wis., and Bill Frenzel, R-Minn. Though most expressed optimism that the current impasse is solvable, all agreed that political culture has coarsened during the past 22 years and that good lessons can be learned from the unlikely success of the bipartisan budget deal that shaped President George H.W. Bush’s only term.

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