Coburn Rejoins Gang of Six

by Robert Costa

Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), who earlier today rejoined the bipartisan “Gang of Six,” tells National Review Online that the debt-limit impasse could be solved this week. A large group of Senate Republicans and Democrats, he says, are working to tie the group’s $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction plan to a debt-limit extension.

“We ought to get the best possible deal and fight again,” Coburn says. “This is considerably more than what it was when I left [the group in May]. We ought to get more, but this is the reality of where we are.”

After a meeting with over 50 senators this morning, Coburn is confident that there is a growing consensus to use the proposal as a debt-limit solution. “You never see people’s ultimate position until you get down to where this is the last move on the chessboard,” he says. “That is when people will expose what they are willing to do.”

Coburn acknowledges that the “Gang of Six” plan will not be immediately popular in the House, where Republicans hope to pass “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” a Republican Study Committee package, later today. But after having four long conversations with President Obama this week and consulting with senators, he believes that the “Gang of Six” plan has a real chance of being passed.

“This is more bipartisan,” Coburn says. “‘Cut, Cap and Balance’ would work, but the fact is, you need to get the votes for it.” He calls the “Gang of Six” plan a “good first step” and hopes conservatives recognize that the $500 billion in immediate spending cuts, plus the long-term $3.7 trillion in reductions, are “real” and “buy us time to work over the next three or four years” to enact deeper reforms.

“It’s not a tax hike, it’s a $1.5 trillion net tax reduction,” Coburn says when asked about conservative groups’ likely opposition to the deal. He cites the plan’s elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax as an example of its conservative bona fides.

“The American people want compromise, they want to solve the problem, and they want to see significant changes,” Coburn says. “It accomplishes all of those things. It doesn’t go far enough, but it takes a pretty big bite out of the apple.”

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday that he is open to reviewing counterproposals. “I am not going to give up hope on ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance.’ But I do think it’s responsible for us to look at what Plan B would look like,” he said. “There are a lot of options available to us.”

“It’s going to take some time for them to consider this,” Coburn predicts. “But with a net tax cut in it, and you get some significant spending relief, what’s not to like? Live to fight another day.”

— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.

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