Somewhere between the left – President Obama’s speech today on debt reduction – and the right – House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal – lies a middle ground: a bipartisan group of senators working quietly to strike a deal on how to rein in the country’s soaring deficit.
They are called the Gang of Six: Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Mark Warner of Virginia and Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Mike Crapo of Idaho.
For the past few months the six lawmakers have sought to come up with a plan to slash the nation’s deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. For the most part, they have been tight-lipped about their internal deliberations.
“These discussions are at a sensitive point, and the six senators are very, very close to agreement on a framework for moving forward,” a Democratic aide told ABC News. “It appears unlikely that it will occur until after we return from the upcoming recess.”
A few clues were offered Monday when Chambliss and Warner spoke at an event in Atlanta.
“Neither side’s got all the answers in this debate,” Warner said, according to CNN. “The idea that we can do this on simply one side of the balance sheet – well, it’s just a spending problem… no, it’s just a taxing problem – isn’t the case. If we’re not looking at both sides of the balance sheet we should not even start this discussion.”
Two members of the so-called “gang of six” — a bipartisan group of senators working to craft a long-term spending plan — said Sunday they’re making progress on their proposal, despite concerns expressed last week that the talks could be in trouble.
And, in claiming the plan would take a balanced approach, they predicted Republicans and Democrats alike would despise it.
“Let me assure you, we’re going to make everybody mad,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said.
The work product is the latest in a string of cure-all budget plans meant to take the country off its course of seemingly endless debt accumulation. But the pressure is on, with partisan sparks flying over the plans already on the table. After Republican Rep. Paul Ryan outlined his budget proposal, Democrats said its prescribed overhauls to Medicare and Medicaid were cruel to seniors and the poor. After President Obama countered with a plan of his own, Republicans slammed him for turning to tax increases and suggested the rest of the document was fuzzy on details.
Though Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is part of the talks with Warner, said last week that the group was “not anywhere close” to an agreement, he said Sunday “there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to come up with a bipartisan agreement that people can swallow.”
That doesn’t mean they’ll be happy.
“Nobody is going to like what we come up with,” Coburn told “Fox News Sunday.” “The left isn’t going to like it and the right isn’t going to like it. And that’s one thing that would be an indicator that is probably the best compromise we’re going to be able to get.”
Coburn said Americans need to know that lawmakers in Washington are “willing to lose elections to do what is best for the country.”
Coburn did not elaborate on the details of the plan, but Warner offered a few glimpses.
In an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he said “everything has to be on the table.”
Warner said the group was working off the proposal from the president’s fiscal commission and would be “touching every part of the problem,” including Social Security — something largely excluded from both Ryan’s proposal and Obama’s.
“Part of this is just math — 16 workers for every one retiree 50 years ago, three workers for every retiree now,” Warner said.
He also said the tax code needs to be addressed, not necessarily through tax increases but by eliminating deductions. He said the group is looking to impose about $3 in cuts for every $1 in increased revenue.
“Charitable deduction, home mortgage deduction — if we would cut back on some of those, we could actually lower rates and still increase revenues,” he said. Warner said the group is “very close” to a deal.
Anything that even resembles a tax increase, though, is anathema to many Republicans.
Ryan, on “Face the Nation,” reiterated that his party opposes the president’s call to roll back the Bush tax cuts for top earners. He, like Warner, stressed the importance of targeting loopholes and deductions — though Warner suggested Ryan’s plan doesn’t do enough to raise revenue.
“The compromise is not to raise taxes,” Paul said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The compromise is for conservatives to admit that the military budget’s going to have to be cut. … The compromise is where we cut, not where we raise taxes.”
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Sunday that despite the bickering, Republicans and Democrats do agree on something — both sides are calling for about $4 trillion over the next decade or more.
Technically, Republicans are calling for $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, and Obama is calling for $4 trillion over 12 years. The Republican plan incorporates far more spending cuts than Obama’s. But Geithner said the parties have the “same basic view” of the end goal.