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Support Slim for ‘Gang of Eight’

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (above) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have both expressed reservations about the ability of the “gang of eight” to forge a deal that can win broad bipartisan support.

Reid told CQ last week that he thinks the group’s members are doing “serious” work. And he pointed to it as an example of ongoing bipartisanship, even as he explained he would not be reaching out to Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) or other Republicans before the elections.

“The one thing I will say about the gang, the one thing they contributed to this is that they showed there are Senators of both parties willing to sit down and talk about this at a time when no one was engaging in bipartisanship post-health care,” another GOP aide said.

But admiration does not translate into legislation. Leaders have been leery of getting behind the group’s work.

The Majority Leader has publicly spurned the gang of six multiple times, and McConnell has never supported it.

“As the Leader made clear many times, there can be no solution without the President’s involvement and leadership,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in an email in response to the recent wave of news surrounding the group. “Sadly, the President has been notably absent from any serious conversation about reducing our national debt. And while the Leader has encouraged Republican members to seek solutions, and is aware that many members are discussing potential solutions, these efforts are still in the early stages and he has not endorsed any particular effort over another. He does not believe that raising taxes should be considered a solution to an out of control spending problem. And remember, until there is legislative text and a CBO score, it will be impossible to form an opinion on the merits of any particular proposal.”

Both leaders have practical reasons for steering clear of anything that might look like an endorsement of the group’s efforts. The acknowledgement by Coburn and other Republicans affiliated with the group that revenue raisers are on the table puts McConnell in a difficult spot with much of his Conference, which has largely refused to entertain any policy proposal that could be called a tax increase.

Reid too, tends to be an institutionalist who favors the formal committee structure for building bipartisan support for legislation. He also has plenty of rank-and-file Democrats who don’t like the potential changes to Medicare the gang may end up proposing.

Many other Members are working independently to produce alternatives to the sequester, the across-the-board discretionary spending cuts triggered by the failure of last fall’s super committee.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), for one, has mostly been working out of his Capitol Hill office in recent weeks, holding meetings with Warner and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, among others.

Talks continue, even if the structure of a possible deal remains just as difficult to conceive as ever.

Sam Goldfarb and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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