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‘Gang of Six’ to Meet With Senate Leadership

Members of the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of six” will meet with the chamber’s leaders Friday morning to discuss the possibility of moving their deficit reduction proposal through Congress.

The meeting was originally planned for Thursday afternoon, but it was postponed after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) were called to the White House for an evening meeting with President Barack Obama and House Democratic leaders, according to Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad. The North Dakota Democrat and Durbin are members of the gang of six, which put forward a plan this week to cut about $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 years.

Congressional leaders and the White House are intensely working to win support to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2 and avoid default. Talks are focused on a deficit reduction package, but Republicans oppose raising taxes to rein in the deficit and want the final deal to contain only spending cuts. Democrats agree that spending needs to be trimmed but are pushing for including tax increases in the plan.

The gang of six was also supposed to meet with members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative House Democrats, but that meeting was also delayed because of the White House meeting.

The situation was fluid Thursday, and it was unclear whether the group’s plan would be part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Conrad said he spoke with Obama on Thursday morning. “The president called me this morning and talked to me about timing issues,” Conrad said, but he declined to elaborate.

He added that Obama spoke about “the need for as comprehensive of a deal as one could reach because of the need to deal with the debt.”

Conrad said that the group would gather before the Friday morning meeting with the Senate leaders. Other members are Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

Chambliss, a close friend of Speaker John Boehner’s, said he spoke with the Ohio Republican by phone several times Thursday. He also planned to see him in the evening.

Another gang of six member, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), said that the group is trying to work with Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who are developing a process that would ensure the debt ceiling is raised by Aug. 2.

“One of the things we have got to sort through is ... any way we can be helpful to” the leaders, Warner said Thursday.

He added that he has been encouraged by the favorable response to the plan from his Senate colleagues. When asked how many support the plan, Warner said, “It is a growing list and more than a third of the Senate.”

Because the plan includes new revenues — $2 trillion according to an analysis by the House Budget Committee — it faces a difficult road to passage in the Republican-run House. “I think there are still a lot of questions as to what, if anything, the House will do,” Warner said.

The plan has a ratio of about $3 in cuts for every $1 in revenue, he said in a conference call hosted by the nonpartisan group No Labels on Thursday evening. The plan includes reforming the tax code and reducing rates, as well as about $500 billion in cuts from health care entitlement programs, a reference to Medicare and Medicaid.

Warner said the longer lawmakers wait, the more difficult it will be to reduce the deficit, which he said is on an unsustainable path.

“How does this get any easier a year or two years from now?” he asked. “Let’s go ahead and bite this bullet.”

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