Gang Of Six Resurrecting The “Grand Bargain”?

The Gang of Six is back together. And they have a plan.

The so-called Gang of Six, a group of Senators who have spent months trying to come up with a bipartisan budget and debt ceiling increase plan, are out with a plan that some are suggesting may be a turning point in the budget negotiations:

The once moribund Senate “Gang of Six” gained new life Tuesday after Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn unexpectedly rejoined the group and President Barack Obama praised a new effort to cut the debt by as much as $3.7 trillion over the next decade.

Speaking at the White House Tuesday afternoon, Obama gave the Gang of Six a big boost, saying its proposals were “roughly” in line with his negotiations during the stalled debt-ceiling talks. But he said there would need to be broader buy-in to the proposal and he said Congress needed to have “fail-safe” plan, being drafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to avert a default.

“I think we’re now seeing a potential for a bipartisan consensus,” Obama told reporters.

Other top senators are also getting behind the plan, including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, who told a group of senators Tuesday he would back the Gang of Six’s proposal, sources say. The fast-moving developments mean that elements of the proposal could influence the stalled talks to raise the debt-limit before the Aug. 2 deadline.

The Republican led House, which is on the verge of voting on the conservative “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan that has little chance of passing the Senate, remains a tough sell on the Gang of Six.

The House Republican leadership staff is reviewing the Gang of Six proposal, but has several concerns, according to aides.

The devil, as always, is in the details:

According to a copy of a summary of the Gang of Six plan, obtained by POLITICO, the group would impose a two-step legislative process that would make $500 billion worth of cuts immediately followed by a second bill to create a “fast-track process” that would propose a comprehensive bill aimed at dramatically restructuring tax and spending programs. The plan calls for changes to Social Security to move on a separate track, and establishes an elaborate procedure for considering the measures on the floor.

The $500 billion in cuts would come from a range of sources, including shifting to a new consumer price index to make cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security. The plan would impose statutory spending caps through 2015, freeze congressional pay and sell unused federal property.

To enact a comprehensive deficit plan, the group calls for congressional committees to report legislation within six months that would “deliver real deficit savings in entitlement programs over 10 years,” the plan says.

It calls on the Finance Committee to permanently reform or replace Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate – an outdated formula aimed at determining the amount to reimburse doctors for treating Medicare patients – by $298 billion.

The Finance Committee would be instructed to deliver “real deficit savings” through simplifying the tax code and raise as much as $1 trillion. It would do this by establishing three tax brackets with rates of 8-12 percent, 14-22 percent and 23-29 percent. It would permanently repeal the $1.7 trillion Alternative Minimum Tax. And it calls for establishing a single corporate tax rate, between 23 percent and 29 percent, and to move to a competitive territorial tax system.

Overall, the group claims it would result in a $1.5 trillion net tax decrease.

The group punts many of the specifics to other committees, which would be asked to find savings in discretionary and mandatory spending. This includes: $80 billion out of Armed Services; $70 billion out of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; $65 billion out of Homeland Security and Government Affairs; $11 billion out of Agriculture; $11 billion out of Commerce; $6 billion out of Energy and Natural Resources. The Judiciary Committee would be asked to find savings through medical malpractice reform.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the proposal, is the fact that it brought Tom Coburn back into the group. Several months ago, Coburn had left the Gang of Six, saying that he didn’t belive the group was getting anywhere. Just yesterday, Coburn came out with his own budget plan which would cut some $9 trillion over ten years, and would also raise revenues by some $1 trillion. His return to the group and endorsement of the plan is a major boost. Of course, the biggest boost for the plan came this afternoon when President Obama praised it:

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that a proposal offered by Republican and Democratic senators is “a very significant step” that represents “the potential for bipartisan consensus” on resolving the impasse over cutting the deficit and raising the debt ceiling.

In an appearance in the White House briefing room, Obama urged congressional leaders to embrace the “Gang of Six” proposal, which would slash the deficit by $3.7 trillion over 10 years, in part by raising about $1 trillion in new revenue.

“We have a Democratic president and administration that is prepared to sign a tough package that includes both spending cuts, modifications to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare that would strengthen those systems and allow them to move forward, and would include a revenue component,” Obama said. “We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach. And we’ve got the American people who agree with that balanced approach.”

Obama’s decision to align himself with the Senate package aims to further marginalize House Republicans, who have resisted any deficit reduction plan that includes new revenues.

But the Gang of Six proposal and the praise from the president come late in the process, with only 12 days remaining until Congress must raise the debt limit

Obama’s semi-endorsement of the Gang of Six plan was calculated. First, it was meant to undercut the House vote today on “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” which  has no chance of passing the Senate. Second, it was meant to signal that he’s wiling to look for an alternative to the McConnell-Reid Plan, which seems to have little chance of passing the House. It also places the ball firmly in the House GOP’s Court. After their plan passes and quickly goes nowhere, they’ll be left with either McConnell-Reid, or this. Frankly, this is the far better deal but it’s unclear whether they’ll recognize a good deal when they see it.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. hey norm says:

    Holy crap – there are moderates in the Republican Party?
    Apparently Coburn came back because there were some tweaks to Health Care he was demanding – and got.
    Let’s see; the President, a bi-partisan group of Senators, and the American people are for this basic structure.
    It is similar to proposals made by Obama in negotiations last week.
    It is similar to the Bowles-Simpson plan.
    Nope – it’ll never get through the house.

  2. ratufa says:

    Holy crap – there are moderates in the Republican Party?

    And Tom Coburn is one of the moderates. This is why God invented drinking.

  3. Coburn isn’t a moderate. But he’s someone who actually wants to get something done instead of just posturing, which means he’ll settle for the best deal he can get now and then move on to the next round, rather than demanding the perfect solution.

  4. Jib says:

    Coburn is not a moderate, he is very conservative. But he is an adult and he is smart and he actually wants to accomplish something. You need to separate where people stand on ideological grounds from whether or not they are competent. It is pretty bad when there are so few examples of competent conservatives that we dont know how to categorize the ones we see. It has got to the point that most people just assume that conservative == bat shit crazy.

  5. hey norm says:

    @ Ratufa…
    And here I thought it was just to torture my liver.
    Coburn is a bit to the right…but in todays republican party looks moderate.
    Obama is as moderate as it gets…his signature achievement is Republican Health Care Reform…and they call him a socialist.
    It’s all relative.

  6. Lgbpop says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Arrgggghhhhh! THIS IS WHY WE ARE IN SUCH A MESS! Unprincipled vote whores are more interested in making a deal – a “bipartisan” mess sure to slit the economic throat of America just a bit deeper – for the sake of the deal, rather than CUTTING SPENDING. We already take in more tax money (insane amounts of which are wasted as it is) than we ever have and yet Coburn’s suggestion will add yet another $100bn a year in new taxes. New taxes on whom, this time?

    Guaranteed – in the summer of ’12 Democrats will run on their records and say the Republicans worked with them, and/or blame the Republicans when the spending is NOT reduced one damn bit for the fourth consecutive budget compromise and the economy is in even worse shape than now, and win; Republicans will try to deny they were involved with this tar baby, and lose; and Obama comes out looking like King Solomon and wins again – and the American people lose.

  7. john personna says:

    @Lgbpop, the problem is that congress sets spending.

    If you really can’t believe in Congress anymore, you are punting on the Constitution.

  8. Hey Norm says:

    @ lgbpop….
    “…We already take in more tax money (insane amounts of which are wasted as it is) than we ever have…”
    First…insane amounts are wasted? What’s an insane amount? In percentages? And where is that waste? This is just another myth. Sure…there is waste in any organization. But insane amounts? Prove it.
    Second….taxes are at a historic low. Not sure where you are getting your mis-information. Unless you are looking gross numbers…which would be misleading. You need to look at percentages. Unless you are intentionally being misleading.

  9. john personna says:

    @Hey Norm, it might work if he counts the wars as waste.

  10. ratufa says:

    Drinking comment aside, I have some respect for Coburn, even though I disagree with him on a lot of issues. Like Ron Paul, he’s not afraid to take some principled stands that go against the Party line. Perhaps he can help the Republicans get themselves out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into.

  11. Hey Norm says:

    WHOA…did lgbpop call Obama a TAR BABY?
    Because I think he called him a tar baby.
    Can I get a ruling????

  12. Hey Norm says:

    “…Republicans will try to deny they were involved with this tar baby, and lose; and Obama comes out looking like King Solomon…”
    What does that mean???

  13. ratufa says:

    @Hey Norm:

    As Wikipedia puts it:

    In modern usage, “tar baby” refers to any “sticky situation” that is only aggravated by additional contact. The only way to solve such a situation is by separation.

    Which sounds like a reasonable description, depending on your political leanings, of a “grand bargain” budget deal. No need to impute racism based on Lgbpop’s use of the term.

  14. john personna says:

    No, that was tar baby in the sticky sense. 🙂

  15. Hey Norm says:

    OK…I guess I buy it.
    I apologize for my mis-understanding.

  16. markm says:

    SO….from what i’ve seen so far on this plan, it looks to do all sorts of super awesome stuff but doesn’t appear to cut spending much, doesn’t appear to reform SS/Medicare/Medicade and I didn’t see anything related to the debt ceiling.

    Am I wrong?. Granted, only snippets have been released but it doesn’t seem like much.

  17. Jib says:


    Yeah, I dont know. They are talking about decreasing taxes by $1.5 trillion ?!!!? How can you get anywhere doing that? We have been cutting taxes forever and the deficits keep getting bigger. $3.7 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, maybe they are real, maybe not but taxes cut too? No way this results in any real saving but the whole point is to raise the debt ceiling so it probably does not matter. Debt ceiling is for political shadow dancing, nothing real. It is the budget when money is spent or cut. That is where the real action is.

  18. anjin-san says:

    Unless you are intentionally being misleading.

    More likely someone else was being intentionally misleading and he fell for it.

  19. @Lgbpop:

    Unprincipled vote whores are more interested in making a deal – a “bipartisan” mess sure to slit the economic throat of America just a bit deeper – for the sake of the deal, rather than CUTTING SPENDING.

    Those of us who actually cared about cutting spending before January 20, 2009 Remember Coburn was one of the people fighting to cut spending before it was cool. He was, for example, the guy who originally coined the term “Bridge to Nowhere” back when people like you (and Sarah Palin) couldn’t get over what a great guy Ted “the King of Pork” Stevens was.

    If there’s unprincipled vote whores in this mess, it’s the johnny come latelys like Bachmann who never saw a spending bill they didn’t like until a Democrat became president.

  20. jukeboxgrad says:

    There isn’t enough time to make this plan work. From WP:

    Reid … highlighted the procedural obstacles to shifting legislative strategies so late in the game … The ticking clock is a major impediment to pursuing the Gang of Six strategy, which has yet to be drafted in legislative form or examined by congressional budget analysts.

    Also, it will be rejected in the house, because it increases revenues. That’s taboo.

    I think there will be no deal. The tea party doesn’t want one, and the tea party is running the house.

    I think the interesting question is this: why did this proposal suddenly emerge? Why did Coburn suddenly make this move? Here’s my theory: because he understands the importance of marginalizing the tea party, and he is seizing a chance to do that. They have already painted themselves into a corner, but his move puts them in an even tougher spot.

    No surprise that Obama is happy: Coburn and Obama share an interest in exposing the nuttiness of the tea party. Like a lot of sane Rs, Coburn realizes they are a threat to the GOP. But what makes him stand out is that he’s doing something about it.

    He is a rare bird: an elected R who is quite conservative, and also willing to confront the tea party (which is really what he was doing when he confronted Norquist). What other major elected Rs are in that category? I can’t think of any.

  21. jan says:

    @hey norm:

    Obama is as moderate as it gets…his signature achievement is Republican Health Care Reform…and they call him a socialist.

    Gag! Obama is a moderate! Maybe to a liberal democrate he might appear that way. But to anybody just to the left of center and going right, Obama is very liberal.

    His signature health care plan was highly rejected by most republicans, along with many moderate dems and indies. To this day, 54% of everyone wants it repealed, with only 39% wanting it not to be repealed. Now granted some of that 54% may be people who thought it didn’t go far enough, wanting the single payer option included. However, I haven’t seen any polls lately making such a differentiation in that majority wanting it gone.

  22. David M says:

    Here are the recent poll results showing more people support the health care reform law than think it should be repealed because it is too liberal. Add in the rest that wish the health care reform went further and I’d say there isn’t really much support for the GOPs repeal position.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    But to anybody just to the left of center and going right, Obama is very liberal.

    Tell us, what are the “very liberal” things that he has done as president…

  24. hey norm says:

    @ Jan…
    The ACA was rejected by republicans because it was being proposed by Obama. They vote against anything he proposes, because thats what children do…they hold their breathe and stomp their feet. That’s partisan politics. That’s why he has been careful about standing firmly behind any deficit reduction plan. His support is the kiss of death because republicans are incapable of governing in a mature manner.
    The ACA is modeled after a proposal from the hyper-right wing Heritage Foundation – which is funded in large part by the Koch Brothers. In addition it is almost exactly like the signature legislation of a Republican Presidential candidate…because it was drafted with the help of the guy that drafted Romneycare. That’s facts.

  25. hey norm says:

    @ Jan…
    The point is that the republicans have moved so far right in opposition to a moderate president that moderation looks like socialism to them…and you.

  26. jukeboxgrad says:


    to anybody just to the left of center and going right, Obama is very liberal.

    According to your standards (i.e., tea party standards), Reagan was “very liberal:”

    The new party of Reagan … After he switched to the Republican Party in 1962, Ronald Reagan famously quipped: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” Now, the Republican Party is doing the same thing to him — and Democrats are happy to take Reagan back.

    … Tea Party Republicans have little regard for the policies of the president they claim to venerate. Tea Party Republicans call a vote to raise the debt ceiling a threat to their very existence; Reagan presided over 18 increases in the debt ceiling during his presidency. Tea Party Republicans say they would sooner default on the national debt than raise taxes; Reagan agreed to raise taxes 11 times. Tea Party Republicans, in “cut, cap and balance” legislation on the House floor Tuesday, voted to cut government spending permanently to 18 percent of gross domestic product; under Reagan, spending was as high as 23.5 percent and never below 21.3 percent of GDP. … Under the Tea Party Republicans’ spending cap, Reagan’s military buildup, often credited with winning the Cold War, would have been impossible.

    … a number of Republicans have begun to admit the obvious: The Gipper would no longer be welcome on the GOP team. Most recently, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (Calif.) called Reagan a “moderate former liberal . . . who would never be elected today in my opinion.” This spring, Mike Huckabee judged that “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible time being nominated in this atmosphere …”

  27. jukeboxgrad says:

    And I should mention that yesterday Doug made a similar point about Reagan.

  28. Rob in CT says:

    Reagan was very fiscally irresponsible. That’s where the tax cut fairy stuff started. Ugh.

    If the Tea Partiers want to repudiate such, fine by me. The problem is they still believe in the tax cut fairy (and magical military spending).

  29. jukeboxgrad says:

    Reagan was very fiscally irresponsible.

    I won’t argue with that. He tripled the national debt. 3/4 of the debt Obama inherited was created under these three presidents: Reagan, Bush and Bush.

  30. Moosebreath says:

    And for more proof that anything Obama is for, Republicans are automatically against, see here

  31. WR says:

    @john personna: Is Stormy a he? I always assumed Stormy was a woman. My apologies to all Dragons if I’m wrong…

  32. @WR:

    I believe personna’s “he” was referring to lgbpop. As for me though, Dragons are its. Duh. 😉

  33. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Not according to George RR Martin.

  34. Moosebreath says:

    “Not according to George RR Martin.”

    Or Tolkein. Or Rowling. Or the makers of Shrek. Or just about any other writer I’ve seen.

  35. @Moosebreath:

    Well, this Dragon refuses to be bound by your fictional gender stereotypes!

  36. Moosebreath says:


    Since non-fictional dragons are remarkably rare, it becomes difficult to determine their sex. Although the lack of sex may explain why they are so rare.

  37. @Moosebreath:

    Yes, but non-fictional dragons make great antique furniture.

  38. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes, but non-fictional dragons make great antique furniture.

    That’s a cruel use of dragons.