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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to keep their distance from a bipartisan group of eight Senators who hope to solve the fiscal issues facing Congress in the coming lame-duck session.
The group — originally known as the “gang of six,” but now composed of four Republicans and four Democrats — has never been able to come to agreement on the biggest issues affecting the deficit, primarily entitlement reform and taxes. Consequently, it has not been able to produce a bill, nor create buy-in for its policy specifics from at least 60 Senators, the number needed to overcome a filibuster.
Sources inside and outside the group are dubious that it will come to agreement. Moreover, Reid and McConnell have been waiting until after the November elections to decide whether to extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts or how to replace automatic spending cuts set to take effect in January. And they’re certainly not endorsing a product that doesn’t yet exist, or negotiating with a group that they have both publicly dismissed in the past as futile or unnecessary.
“Nothing has changed,” one senior GOP leadership aide said. “The only thing that’s different is that [Senate Budget Chairman] Kent Conrad is not going to be a Senator next year and they’re going to need to find a new member for the group.”
Conrad was one of the founding members of the gang of six, along with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). The six lawmakers will meet Wednesday at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic Virginia estate, along with Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). The former chairmen of the president’s commission on deficit reduction, former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and ex-Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), will also be in attendance.
The much-publicized closed-door retreat is happening in lieu of the group’s regular recess conference call because all of the members will be in the Washington, D.C., area that day, according to sources.
After last August’s debt deal made it less relevant, the group continued to work sporadically, without producing a legislative compromise on which its members could all agree. There have been large presentations to dozens of Senators to recruit new support and even new members. But the effort hasn’t been without its problems: Coburn walked away from the group at one point last year, citing differences with Democrats, such as Durbin, over Medicare.