The much-hyped “gang of six” is on the verge of being left behind.
Democratic and Republican leaders have never been overly enthusiastic about the bipartisan group and have already started looking for other ways to cut a deal on the budget and raising the debt limit.
And with the group still unable to reach an agreement despite months of negotiations, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said Tuesday he is prepared to go forward in his committee with a budget blueprint of his own as soon as next week.
The North Dakota Democrat presented a draft blueprint that calls for $4 trillion in deficit cuts over the next decade to the Democratic Conference on Tuesday, but it was not clear whether he will get the blessing of Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who is worried Democrats will lock themselves into positions that might make it harder to negotiate with Republicans.
Conrad said the group’s talks haven’t yet produced a deal, although he still hopes they will. In the meantime, he’s obligated as Budget chairman to move forward anyway.
“I’m running out of time,” Conrad said.
Reid, with an eye on upcoming bipartisan budget talks with the House and the White House, appeared wary of the proposal. In a press conference after the lunch, Reid joked that Conrad showed Senators “lots of charts.” But Reid said he told his caucus to hold off signing on to any specific plan “until we know what the endgame is ... until we really know where we are heading.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that bipartisan debt limit talks to be led by Vice President Joseph Biden are more likely to be successful than the gang of six’s efforts.
“Those talks are beginning Thursday and will in my view lead to some kind of conclusion, because as you know the clock is ticking,” he said.
Asked if that meant he had a lack of faith in the group, McConnell replied, “It’s not a question of faith. If you are looking for a result ... the only way I can conclude that something is likely to get to a result anytime soon is in these debt ceiling talks.”
Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is McConnell’s point man for negotiating with Biden, while Conrad has been negotiating with less senior Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), and Mike Crapo (Idaho), along with Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Coburn spokesman John Hart minimized the significance of Conrad’s budget blueprint, as well as whether the group is successful in crafting the final deal to cut the deficit.
“Any plan that doesn’t have 60 votes is irrelevant,” he said. “Dr. Coburn doesn’t care who gets us there or who the process helps or hurts politically. If we don’t tackle our debt crisis we’re all toast.” Sixty votes are needed to avoid a filibuster.
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