Obama Endorses Gang Of Six Plan

President Obama Tuesday made an unexpected appearance before reporters to endorse an ambitious deficit reduction plan that includes spending cuts and tax increases drafted by the so-called Gang of Six. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's David Welna.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

D: three Republicans and three Democrats who have been meeting for months trying to reduce the long-term federal deficit.

In May, they were sidelined by the departure of a key Republican member, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. But today Coburn returned, and the group met with nearly 50 of their Senate colleagues to say that they had agreed on a package.

President Obama also weighed in, saying it might be the way to resolve the debt ceiling crisis.

BARACK OBAMA: For us to see Democratic senators acknowledge that we've got to deal with our long-term debt problems that arise out of our various entitlement programs, and for Republican senators to acknowledge that revenues will have to be part of a balanced package that makes sure that nobody is disproportionately hurt from us making progress on the debt and deficits I think is a very significant step.

SIEGEL: Well, for more on this Gang of Six proposal we're joined now by NPR's David Welna. David, do we have a breakthrough moment here?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Robert, the enthusiasm for this proposal has spread here at the Capitol like a brushfire, and it's really bipartisan for a change.

Quite significantly, in light of the pretty bitter partisan standoff over raising the debt ceiling, of the 49 senators who attended this briefing this morning, 25 were Republicans, and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that the three GOP members of the Gang of Six - Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, as you mentioned, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia - are among the most conservative members of the Senate.

GOP: Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat; Virginia's Mark Warner and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad.

But I also think that there was an 11th-hour recognition here that this may be the only bipartisan deficit reduction package that has a prayer of being approved before the August 2 debt ceiling deadline. And there's almost a giddiness in the air here about the prospects of it being the way the Congress does thread the needle, raising the debt ceiling and also reassuring jittery markets.

SIEGEL: Well, David I want you to sum up a bit of what we do know about what's in the Gang of Six package.

WELNA: Well, it hasn't been made public, but those who have been briefed on it tell me it's truly the kind of grand bargain that President Obama's been holding out for.

It cuts projected deficits over the next decade by nearly $4 trillion, much like the plan that the president and House Speaker John Boehner were talking about, until Boehner backed out under pressure from anti-tax conservatives.

And like that plan, this one would have about $3 in spending cuts for every dollar in increased revenues, more than a trillion dollars in new tax revenues in all, largely from a revamping of the tax code.

Half the spending cuts would be defense-related, and to the dismay of many Democrats, a long-term care program promised in the new health care law would be dropped, saving about half a trillion dollars.

SIEGEL: That's the so-called Class Act.

WELNA: Exactly.

SIEGEL: What's the general sense of reaction among other senators to this potential deal?

WELNA: Well, Democrats especially are eager to move ahead with this grand bargain, possibly making it part of the so-called Plan B fallback under which the debt ceiling would be raised, even with the majority of lawmakers voting against doing so.

But what's really significant is how enthusiastic some very conservative Senate Republicans are about this proposal. Lamar Alexander, who is the number three Republican, has endorsed it. And Mississippi's Roger Wicker thinks it could get between 60 and 70 votes in the Senate, enough to make it filibuster-proof.

CONAN: Now earlier today, Senator Warner told me that he thought this plan has enough credibility with the Republicans that House Republicans would likely approve it. Do you agree with that? Does it seem to be something that people who have opposing any kind of tax increase could buy?

WELNA: Well, that's tough to know at this point. We really haven't gotten a clear reaction from the House GOP leadership that would have to bring up this proposal first in the House because it's a revenue-raising bill. And the House would have to start it.

Because it was drafted in the Senate, now there's probably going to be some resentment about that, but if the House doesn't take it up, it would have a hard time getting to the Senate.

SIEGEL: OK, thank you, David.

WELNA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: NPR's David Welna on Capitol Hill.

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