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Leaders Disregard ‘Gang of Six’

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Mark Warner is leading a group of Senators in an effort to influence the deficit reduction committee to exceed the $1.5 trillion in savings that the debt deal asks it to find before Nov. 23.

The lack of a blessing from leaders makes it unlikely, even if the group managed to rally around a single plan, that the full Senate would consider the package, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide.

Beyond Senate hurdles, House Republicans have said they would oppose the kinds of tax increases that would likely need to be part of the deal to reach the
$4 trillion in deficit reduction desired. Similarly, House Democrats have pledged to block cuts to entitlements that have also been discussed among the group’s supporters.

“This is a chamber exercise,” the Senate Republican aide said. “It would be dead on arrival in the House.”

Several lawmakers have expressed their frustration that the super committee limits their influence because only 12 Members of Congress will be involved. Freshman Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) recently introduced legislation that would require the super committee to hold all its meetings in public.

Members of the gang of six are involved with the bigger Warner-Chambliss group, but there are varying opinions about how much the group can do, if anything. The Warner-Chambliss group is working on a statement of purpose, said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), an original gang of six member.

“We are close,” Durbin said of the Warner-Chambliss group. Durbin said he plans to continue to attend the group’s meetings but not as a representative of leadership.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), also a gang of six member, said he wants the group to present its plan to the super committee. The panel is currently holding hearings.

“I certainly hope that opportunity arises,” Crapo said. He added that he has spoken privately with other Senators about presenting a plan to the panel, but to his knowledge, no official request has been made.

“In a sense, our proposal and our ideas are already out there and on the table, but I would like to discuss with them in detail the broader picture and how far we need to go,” Crapo said.

Warner, when asked what avenues were open to the group to pursue its goal, would only say, “Stay tuned.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) — who has attended meetings of the Warner-Chambliss group but not in his capacity as Republican Conference chairman — said the best thing that the group has going for it is its numbers.

“When you have about a third of the Senate that have agreed on principles ... that is a pretty good start toward creating consensus that could support a big step by the super committee,” Alexander said. “I don’t think we ought to write their bill for them, but we ought to say to them, if you take a big step, we are going to do our best to help you succeed.”

But Coburn is frustrated that Congress isn’t doing what it needs to in order to address the deficit problem, and while he wishes the super committee well, he isn’t expecting a result that addresses the problem.

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