A bipartisan group of senators unveiled an ambitious deficit-reduction plan on July 19 that calls for limiting Social Security increases and reducing mortgage and other cherished tax deductions, a last-minute development that quickly won praise from President Obama and could provide a path to break a months-long budget impasse. With House Democrats and Republicans hardening their positions over whether and how to raise the nation's debt limit before an Aug. 2 deadline, the group of senators dubbed the "Gang of Six" outlined the framework of a deal they said would cut the deficit's growth by $3.7 trillion over 10 years. About $1 trillion of that would be raised by overhauling the tax code to lower individual and corporate rates while slicing myriad loopholes, shelters, and deductions. The proposal attracted support from rank-and-file senators in both parties, if not yet their leaders. Here are some key players and comments, reactions:
The "Gang of Six" — Republicans Tom Coburn of Okla., Saxby Chambliss of Ga., and Mike Crapo of Idaho and Democrats Mark Warner of Va., Dick Durbin of Ill., and Kent Conrad of N.D. — formed after a high-profile report from an 18-member debt commission formed by President Obama. The panel failed to win the 14 votes needed to send its recommendations to Congress, but it succeeded in putting forward a host of ideas for tackling the deficit.
The "Gang of Six" plan promises almost $4 trillion in deficit cuts, including an immediate 10-year, $500 billion down payment that would come as Congress sets caps on the agency budgets it passes each year. It also requires an additional $500 billion in cost curbs on federal health care programs, cuts to federal employee pensions, curbs in the growth of military health care and retirement costs, and modest cuts to farm subsidies.
President Barack Obama and a startling number of Republican senators lauded a deficit-reduction plan put forward by the bipartisan "Gang of Six" lawmakers.
The president said he hoped congressional leaders would "start talking turkey" on a deal to reduce deficits and raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit as soon as Wednesday, using that plan as a roadmap.
"We don't have any more time to engage in symbolic gestures; we don't have any more time to posture," said Obama, who endorsed the effort during a White House briefing. "It's time to get down to the business of actually solving this problem."
Obama added that he plans to call congressional leaders to the White House for more meetings. He also encouraged Congress to continue working on a backup plan, pitched by McConnell and Reid, that would allow him to unilaterally raise the debt limit in case a broader deal cannot be reached.
The "Gang of Six" work was resurrected when Coburn recently rejoined it. He had left in May because he didn't think the plan would include enough cuts. He said in a brief interview recently that he decided to rejoin the group after some unspecified compromises were made.
"I don't think the renewed energy is over the 'Gang of Six,'" he said. "The renewed energy is over the hope that we'll get something that will fix the country."
He also predicted the "Gang of Six" would soon become a "Gang of 60" - the magic number to get any Senate plan past a filibuster.
Coburn had previously introduced a plan that would cut the debt by $9 trillion over 10 years by, among other things, raising the Social Security age to 70, ending subsidies and raising $1 trillion in new taxes.
As reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spoke on the floor of the Senate moments before President Obama congratulated the "Gang of Six," stating:
"It is a significant moment in our history that 49 Senators — Republicans and Democrats — came together this morning and felt positive about a bipartisan plan to reduce our deficit," said Durbin. "But we don't have much time left to get down to business and extend the debt ceiling. We cannot let interest rates go up and kill the recovery that's taking place in this economy by killing jobs. We need to solve this problem on a bipartisan basis — we need to extend the debt ceiling."
Earlier in the month, Durbin implored fellow lawmakers to "stay, close the deal" on a new budget plan. Durbin opposed a short-term or stopgap measure, saying "I'm worried about this idea that we can lurch from week to week and month to month." He said that if Democrats and Republicans cannot come to an accord, public outrage will be "on our shoulders."
On Wednesday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., joined conservative talk show host Martha Zoller to discuss his support for "Cut, Cap and Balance" as a solution for the debt ceiling debate.
In late June, Chambliss repeated a call for Congress and the President to pass a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance the federal budget.
"The current and projected imbalance between government spending and revenues is unsustainable. Washington has an obligation to say 'enough is enough,'" said Chambliss. "We must stop spending money we don't have and stop playing politics with America's future. This legislation will force Congress and the administration to put our nation on a path toward fiscal sustainability."
"The single greatest issue facing the nation is the ever increasing federal deficit," Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said in a statement on his website. "Congress, and particularly the Senate, needs to engage fully on a course of bold and productive actions to end the debt crisis in America that is stifling the economy and stalling the fragile recovery."
Sen. Crapo has a YouTube video channel, which can be viewed here.
Democrats, who voted strongly against balanced budget amendments the last time Congress considered them in the 1990s, seem even less inclined to support them now. They especially dislike the new provision limiting expenditures to 18 percent of the overall economy. Government spending has not been that low since 1966, when Medicare and Medicaid, the giant health insurance programs for the elderly and poor, were just starting and the U.S. population was younger and smaller than today.
"Maybe they haven't heard about the baby boom generation," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, noting the added federal costs those 77 million Americans are incurring as they begin to retire.
As part of the plan, the Armed Services Committee would be assigned $80 billion in savings, mostly from cuts to military retirement and health care accounts, but the Agriculture Committee would only have to find $11 billion over 10 years from farm subsidies. Conrad is a strong supporter of farm programs.
According to ABC News' Sherisse Pham, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., isn't mincing words: He flat out told one of his constituents that if lawmakers — himself included — fail to pass a budget in time and resolve the ongoing debt debate, everyone should be canned.
"If we don't get this fixed, all of us — all of us — ought to get fired," the senator told ABC's Jonathan Karl. Warner was responding to a concern raised by one of his constituents, Peggy Lemons of Richmond, Va.
"We have a plan to go forward over here so I await word from the Speaker," said the Nevada lawmaker, who also mentioned that he spoke to Obama Tuesday night. Reid was referring to a plan he's working on with GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to give Obama new powers to obtain an increase in the borrowing cap unless overridden by Congress.
Reid has lined up behind a controversial McConnell plan to allow Obama to order up as much as $2.5 trillion in new debt without approval by Congress, which could only block the administration from issuing new debt if Congress disapproves by a veto-proof two-thirds margin in both House and Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. made the following statement on the Senate floor Tuesday:
"Today, members of the House of Representative will have a chance to stand up and be counted. They'll show with their votes whether they believe in freezing Washington's current spending habits in place, and raising job-killing taxes.
"Or whether they believe, as I do, that the reckless spending and debt of the past two years has brought us to the point of crisis, and that something serious must be done to rein it without damaging a fragile economy with job-killing taxes.
"It's that simple."
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio released the following statement praising the House for passing "Cut, Cap, and Balance" legislation:
"Americans are still asking, 'where are the jobs?' And while President Obama simply talks tough about cutting spending, House Republicans are taking action. 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' is exactly the kind of 'balanced' approach the White House has asked for — it provides President Obama with the debt limit increase he's requested while making real spending cuts now and restraining future government spending and debt that are hurting job growth.
"House Republicans are the only ones to put forward and pass a real plan that will create a better environment for private-sector job growth by stopping Washington from spending money it doesn't have and preventing tax hikes on families and small businesses. The White House hasn't said what it will cut. And Senate Democrats haven't passed a budget in more than two years. The President should abandon his veto threat, and urge Senate Democrats to quickly pass the 'Cut, Cap, and Balance' plan to help get our economy back to creating jobs."
Even before the vote, Boehner told reporters that it also was "responsible to look at what Plan B would look like."
In a statement on his website, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, applauded passage of "Cut, Cap, and Balance" legislation by the House of Representatives.
"Cut, cap, and balance is the right approach to rein in runaway government spending and control our massive debt, and I applaud the House for passing this important legislation today," Hatch said in a press release. "President Obama and Harry Reid's only solution is more spending and more taxes. They need to stop kicking the can down the road. While Democrats fail to lead, Republicans are the only ones trying to improve the financial future for current and future generations of Americans."
In the Republicans' weekly radio and Internet address last Saturday, Hatch argued for passage of a balanced-budget amendment. He blamed Democrats for failing to embrace adequate budget cuts and said "the solution to a spending crisis is not tax increases."
In anticipation of the House vote on the "Cut, Cap, and Balance Act," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, released the following statement:
"After the House passes the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, as I expect them to do, the President will have to explain to the American people why he, Harry Reid, and Senate Democrats are blocking the increase in the debt ceiling they requested. So far, we have heard that the President opposes immediate spending cuts and a constitutional amendment that requires the federal government to balance it budget, which puts him directly at odds with the majority of Americans.
"Republicans have proposed a realistic compromise that gives the President what he has asked for in return for immediate spending cuts, reasonable deficit reduction over the next decade, and structural reforms that require Congress to balance its budget. We currently have 39 co-sponsors in the Senate for this compromise, all Republicans. It takes just a small number of Democrats and the President to do the right thing, protect the economy, and move past this stalemate. After the House vote, it will be up to them."
"Today is a historic day," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "The question for the president, the question for the body moving forward is, do we have the fortitude to actually put before the states an amendment? That's all we ask. Can the states have a say in this?"