The House spent all day Tuesday debating GOP legislation requiring a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution before the debt ceiling could be raised. Republicans passed the bill knowing it has little chance of going anywhere in the Democratic-run Senate and also faces a veto threat.
But a new development on the Senate side of the Capitol overshadowed that near party-line vote in the House. A newly resuscitated Gang of Six, which included Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who had dropped out two months ago, was revealing its long-promised debt-reduction plan to colleagues desperate for a new proposal with bipartisan backing.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate's No. 2 Democrat and a member of the Gang of Six, later described that closed-door session on the Senate floor.
"Senators came to the room, and you know what? There were no fistfights, there ... was no swearing," he said. "Instead, Democrats and Republican senators sat in that room, 49 of them, listened to the outline of this Group of Six proposal, and came out with a positive feeling."
Tax Revenues Back On Table
One of the 25 Republicans who heard the Gang of Six's proposal for a grand bargain on debt reduction was Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who ranks third in the GOP leadership. He said he was impressed both with the plan and with the three Republican gang members who helped draft it.
"Sens. [Mike] Crapo, Coburn and [Saxby] Chambliss are three of the most conservative members of the Republican caucus, and if they study something for six months, tell me it's good for the country, that means a lot to me," Alexander said.
Many other conservative Republican senators showered similar praise on the Gang of Six proposal. They did so despite the fact that most Republicans for months have opposed using any increased tax revenues to bring down deficits.
Coburn said this plan puts tax revenues back on the table.
"There's no question, revenues — enhanced revenues — are part of this plan, and we think it'll be about $1 trillion," he said.
Overall, the Gang of Six plan would reduce deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade. Half the spending cuts would come from the defense budget. Savings would also come from cutting spending on Medicare and Medicaid; tax rates would be lowered both for individuals and for corporations, and the alternative minimum tax would be abolished. At the same time, many tax deductions would be targeted in order to raise revenue.
Hope For Common Ground
At the White House, President Obama congratulated the Gang of Six for coming up with what he called a "balanced plan."
"It would not match perfectly with some of the approaches that we've taken, but I think that we're in the same playing field, and my hope is that we can start gathering everybody over the next couple of days to choose a clear direction and to get this issue resolved," Obama said.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn says the time is ripe for Congress to do something big on deficits.
"The problem is, nobody knows what playing field the president's on, because he ... offers no detail but he continues to talk in generalities," Cornyn said. "But I have hope that there is some common ground here and a basis to move forward and come up with something real."
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's top Republican, has come up with a complicated fallback plan that would allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling even if a majority of lawmakers vote against doing so. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been working with McConnell to tweak that plan to win wider support. Reid was noncommittal when asked about the Gang of Six proposal.
"I think it's something we have to look at closely," he said.
But Reid noted that because of the measure's revenue-heavy nature, it would have to "start in the House."
House GOP leaders have repeatedly said they oppose the kind of tax revenues the Gang of Six proposes. Still, on Tuesday night those leaders did not dismiss the Gang of Six package out of hand. They and the other congressional leaders are expected back at the White House on Wednesday for more talks.