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Deficit Hawks See Opening

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Tom Coburn is a member of the “gang of six,” a group of lawmakers searching for a path to a deficit reduction deal. Some members of the group have discussed holding new talks in the wake of the failure of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

With the super committee's failure last week, industrious lawmakers are grasping yet again at the opportunity to reach a sweeping deficit reduction deal but they face the same obstacles that have crushed every group that's tried.

Still seeing an opportunity in the bleakest of legislative outlooks, the bipartisan "gang of six" met for dinner Monday night in the Capitol office suite of Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to discuss a post-super-committee Congress. The group has grown to eight and its members also tout the support of dozens more who attended informal information sessions throughout the summer but the size of their challenge has not been reduced.

Lawmakers at the dinner suggested that they talked about talking, but they did not decide whether they would try to fill the void left by the failed Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. And even if the group wanted to rescue the country from ballooning deficits, it never produced legislative language to back its big goal of reaching nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction by tackling entitlements and tax reform.

If the gang of six wants to be serious, sources suggest, it will need to come up with a real product sometime in the beginning of 2012. So close to the failure of the super committee, however, that seems like a hefty goal.

"I hope that's not overly optimistic because we're going to be out of session for some period of time, but I think it's clear to me that any proposal dealing with the deficit has to be in writing, scored by the CBO and ready for the floor and the question is whether our group or any group can reach that. Last night, we talked about at least discussing it," Durbin said when asked whether the gang could create such a product by February or March.

"We're not starting anew, but we're starting fresh in light of changing circumstances, both political and economic," Durbin added.

Besides Durbin, the gang of six includes Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). On Monday, those six were joined by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), according to sources.

The biggest incentive for the gang and others in Congress to devise a deficit reduction deal is the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that were triggered by the super committee's demise. Those cuts include nearly $500 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to the Department of Defense cutbacks Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and some Congressional Republicans have deemed catastrophic.

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