MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Mary Louise Kelly.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And Im Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
The stalemate over the federal debt ceiling is not resolved. But yesterday it was transformed. A group of lawmakers waded into a bitterly partisan fight with what they say is a bipartisan solution.
KELLY: The so-called Gang of Six is a group of senators whove been working for months to cut the federal deficit in a big way. And they wanted to do it in a way that at least some members of both parties can accept.
INSKEEP: Yesterday, the Gang unveiled its plan to other senators. Many senators said they liked it and so did President Obama.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: The House spent all day yesterday 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. A newly resuscitated Gang of Six, which included Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, who'd dropped out two months ago, was revealing its long-promised debt reduction plan to colleagues desperate for a new proposal with bipartisan backing.
Dick Durbin is the Senate's number two Democrat and a member of the Gang of Six. He later described that closed door session on the senate floor.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Forty-nine senators came to the room. And you know what? There were no fistfights. There was no swearing. 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.
WELNA: One of the 25 Republicans who heard the Gang of Six's proposal for a grand bargain on debt reduction, was Lamar Alexander, 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.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): I mean Senators Crapo, Coburn and 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. So as one senator, I support it.
WELNA: Many other conservative Republicans 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. According to GOP Gang Member Coburn, this plan puts tax revenues back on the table.
Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): There's no question, revenues -enhanced revenues are part of this plan, and we think it'll be about a trillion dollars.
WELNA: 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 corporations, and the Alternative Minimum Tax would be abolished. At the same time, many tax deductions would be targeted in order to raise revenue.
At the White House, President Obama congratulated the Gang of Six for coming up with what he called a balanced plan.
President BARACK OBAMA: 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.
WELNA: Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn says the time is ripe for Congress to do something big on deficits.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): The problem is, nobody knows what playing field the president's on, 'cause he seems - he offers no detail but he continues to talk in generalities. But I have hope that there is some common ground here and a basis to move forward to come up with something real
WELNA: Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, has come up with a complicated fallback plan that would allow President 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 non-committal when asked about the Gang of Six proposal.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada, Majority Leader): I think it's something we have to look at closely. You know, there's no legislative language. And understand, before we start passing a bill out of the Senate, it has to start in the House, because it's a heavily-revenue bill. So House would have to start this.
WELNA: House GOP leaders have repeatedly said they oppose the kind of tax revenues the Gang of Six proposes. Still, last night, those leaders did not dismiss the Gang of Six package out of hand. And today, they and the other congressional leaders are expected back at the White House for more talks.
David Welna, NPR news, the Capitol.
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