Gang Of Six Unveils Debt-Reduction Plan [UPDATED]
WASHINGTON -- More than half the Senate was convened early Tuesday morning by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) for a briefing on a deficit-reduction plan being negotiated by a group of five senators from both parties once known as the "Gang of Six."
The gang had previously comprised six lawmakers before Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) abandoned the talks, rebuking Democrats for being unwilling to cut Social Security or Medicare. Yet Coburn had heavy praise for the plan outlined Tuesday morning, raising hopes (and fears) that the gang may be getting back together.
Senators were effusive about the plan after the briefing meeting, calling it "great" and saying it would likely gain support from a majority of the Senate. The plan includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, managed by spending caps and cuts to government programs.
"We've gone from a Gang of Six to a mob of 50," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) after the meeting.
More than half of the Senate arrived to hear about the debt-reduction plan Tuesday morning, and the general atmosphere was positive, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
"Everyone felt a sense of relief that there was a bipartisan, carefully constructed plan before us," she told reporters outside the meeting.
A Senate Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations with Coburn said that the Oklahoma senator had refused Democratic entreaties, even after cuts to entitlements were offered. But now that the five other Senators are moving forward without him, the aide said, Coburn is more interested in being involved again.
"This type of a wider audience may make him less important, particularly if there are other Republicans willing to step up," said the aide.
A different Senate aide said it remains unclear whether there is enough time to move forward with the plan before Aug. 2, the date the Treasury Department predicts the federal government could begin defaulting on its debt. But Collins said the Gang has completed enough work on their deal that it could be ready in time for a pre-Aug. 2 vote.
"They have done so much work that a lot of the issues have been gone through, and they're in the midst of drafting statutory language," Collins said. "I believe it should be considered in conjunction with the debt ceiling plan."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said the plan could gain traction in the Senate and even in the Republican-controlled House, which is committed to major spending cuts.
"I think if you look at the details here, they will see it does lots of things they've called for," Hutchison told reporters.
"They have come up with a plan that can get a majority vote in the Senate, very likely 60," she said, adding she would vote for the plan. "The House should like this plan because it has spending cuts."
UPDATE 1:45 p.m.: President Barack Obama expressed some support of the Gang of Six plan during remarks to the press on Tuesday, calling the plan a "very significant step" that is "broadly consistent with the approach that I've urged."
"What it says is we've got to be serious about reducing domestic spending, both in domestic and in defense," he said. "We've got to be serious about tackling health care spending and entitlements in a serious way and we've got to have some additional revenue so we have an approach in which there is shared sacrifice."
UPDATE 2:10 p.m.: The Gang of Six plan is laid out in a summary flyer obtained by HuffPost and details the group's proposal for cutting the deficit by more than $3.6 trillion over the next decade.
The plan would immediately cut $500 billion in spending to bring down the deficit. It would also include major tax cuts, with about $1.5 trillion in overall tax savings, its authors say.
But that estimate factors in a $1.7 trillion cut to the alternative minimum tax -- a tax Congress already eliminates much of every year. But even with the AMT cuts, the package raises only a net $200 billion compared to cuts of more than $3 trillion -- not exactly a balanced approach.
Much of the Gang of Six plan would require other agencies and Congressional committees to work to find savings, setting up guidelines for $80 billion in armed service cuts and $70 billion from health, education, labor and pensions. Under the plan, the Budget Committee would be required to set spending caps that would extend over the next decade.
UPDATE 3:10 p.m.: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threw some cold water on the Gang of Six plan Tuesday, voicing doubts that the plan could be scored and passed before the Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
Reid said he got a call from Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf, who said the plan would take at least two weeks to score for cost and savings, putting the completion of that work just beyond the Aug. 2 deadline. Reid called the plan "wonderful" and said he does not want to diminish enthusiasm over it, but said alternatives still must be considered.
Reid said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a Gang of Six member, would meet with him in the next 24 hours with parts of the plan that can be incorporated into a deal brokered by Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to raise the debt ceiling.
Michael McAuliff contributed to this report.