Hopes for a grand bipartisan debt limit deal took a big hit Tuesday after Sen. Tom Coburn pulled out of the “gang of six” talks.
“I’m not planning on participating at this time,” the Oklahoma Republican told reporters, citing an impasse on entitlement spending.
Fellow GOP gang of six member Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) said the group would not go on as a “gang of five.”
“No, we won’t,” he said.
But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who also belongs to the group, said that the remaining five members would meet Wednesday and that he hopes they will continue their work even if Coburn does not return.
“He’s made a valuable contribution, but we have worked so long and so hard, I hope that we can finish this and present it to the Senate,” the Illinois Democrat said.
Chambliss expressed hope that Coburn would eventually return to the group and that something could still be worked out.
“We’re going to continue the effort. I would hope that eventually we’ll still as a group of six be able to come to some long-term resolution of the issue, but that’s not going to happen short term,” Chambliss said.
The group has been working for months on a $4 trillion package of deficit reductions based on last year’s fiscal commission plan, but progress had come to a halt.
“You come to a point in time where people can’t give or won’t,” Coburn said.
He said he would return to the talks if things change. Coburn added that he didn’t think there was enough reform of entitlements, such as Medicare and Social Security.
“We have to do what’s best for this country regardless of who it costs or what, but it’s got to be balanced,” he said.
Coburn declined to go into detail because there was still a chance the talks could be revived.
But one source close to the talks said the break occurred after Coburn demanded an additional $130 billion in Medicare cuts over the next decade from current beneficiaries. That proposal goes beyond what was included in the president’s fiscal commission plan, on which the group was basing its talks.
“He is asking for deep Medicare cuts beyond what the fiscal commission proposed and beyond even Paul Ryan’s [R-Wis.] proposal,” the source said. “That is just not going to happen.”
Still, Coburn remained committed to raising federal revenues as part of any deal. The group has been working on a proposal that would lead to lower tax rates overall but would bring in more revenue by eliminating some tax subsidies and credits.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.