Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia has worked for two years with a group originally called the Gang of Six to try to work out a deficit reduction plan based on Simpson-Bowles.
"I'm really hoping that reasonable people in both parties will say 'no mas'. If we don't get it fixed we all ought to get fired. Politics is the only business I've ever seen where people can make a whole career out of just being against stuff," said Warner. "Acting irresponsibly has become the norm."
Mitt Romney's selection of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who advocates deficit reduction through deep spending cuts in domestic programs, Medicare and other entitlements, but no new revenue, has insured that this issue will be part of the election discussion.
Ryan and Tom Coburn were both members of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission. But while Ryan voted against it, Coburn, who is also a member of the Gang of Six, voted in favor of the final commission report. "Let's have the fight about the solutions but let's quit lying about the problems. We need some people with guts in Washington willing to do what's right," Coburn insisted.
Like most Democrats, Udall believes you can't deal with the debt unless you discuss revenue as well as spending: "Until the Tea Party element decides they really want the country to move forward...we're going to be challenged. They think if you cut taxes and end the federal government everything is going to be hunky dory."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, agreed with that assessment. "This is the most radical group and they have the rest of the Republican Party terrified...they're extremists," he said. At 72, Frank has decided he's also leaving Congress at the end of this year. Always blunt-spoken, he's become more critical of the hyper-partisan atmosphere as his departure date approaches.
"I think it's a misconception to say it's the freshmen that are causing the problem," said Rep. Charlie Bass, a New Hampshire Republican. "There is a group of very conservative people in our caucus that are holding things up, but it's not just the freshmen."
Bass supported the Simpson Bowles plan and is part of a small House group led by Ohio Republican Steve LaTourette and Democrat Jim Cooper that is pushing for a similar debt reduction approach that includes revenue increases, spending cuts and entitlement reform.
LaTourette, who has served in the House since 1994 and is one of a few remaining moderate Republicans, abruptly announced at the end of July that he is also leaving Congress, saying he's had enough of the partisanship, polarization and inability to get things done. LaTourette told Roll Call that compromise has become "a dirty word."
Everything has become about politics, said Coburn. "The election has been going on now for 18 months and it's sickening." Coburn was reelected to his second Senate term in 2010 but says he won't seek another.