The willingness of Coburn and the other Republican members of the gang of six — Chambliss and Mike Crapo (Idaho) — to consider increasing revenue has made them a target of Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. It also has put them at odds with GOP leadership, which has repeatedly rejected any proposals for additional tax revenue, even if they are is accompanied by lower tax rates.
But the group has appeared to lack support from leaders of both parties. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed the group’s talks in recent weeks, saying repeatedly that the bipartisan negotiations led by Vice President Joseph Biden were more likely to lead to a deal. Biden’s group has agreed so far on about $150 billion in spending cuts but still has a long way to go, said Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), whom McConnell tapped to be the Senate GOP’s lead negotiator with Biden.
Nonetheless, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had repeatedly put their hopes in the group, which also includes Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). Earlier this year, 64 Senators — 32 from each party — signed a letter to President Barack Obama praising the group.
Coburn’s exit, meanwhile, came as Senate Democrats appeared to be in no rush to pass a budget of their own.
Conrad still has not lined up the votes he needs on a Democrat-only budget resolution. His efforts have been caught between moderates worried about taking tough votes and liberals demanding modest spending cuts.
Given that Conrad’s budget blueprint will likely be tossed in the trash by the House as soon as the Senate passes it, many Democrats feel the political value of passing one remains questionable: Democrats would get to say they passed a budget, unlike the previous year, but they would give Republicans a chance to take political shots.
In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been content to hold votes on oil company taxes and judicial appointments. And Reid said Tuesday that he would like to vote next week on House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget, which Democrats are happy to vote against.
But their own budget is another matter.
“There are a lot of good ideas out there and there’s not a pressing need to commit to one,” a senior Democratic aide said.
Conrad hasn’t given up yet, but he has little margin to spare.
His job appeared to get tougher Tuesday when Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is up for re-election next year, said he wouldn’t vote for a budget that includes tax hikes.
“I’m only focused on cuts, not on raising taxes,” he said. “If we start getting our attention over to raising taxes, I can assure you that many of my colleagues are going to be less interested in cuts.”
Conrad’s draft budget would increase taxes on upper-income Americans — something that is supported by the vast majority of Democrats. But Conrad can only lose three votes in a 53-47 Senate.
Not everyone shares Nelson’s budget angst.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, a centrist Democrat like Nelson, hailed Conrad for floating a broad proposal.