Amid praise from Obama, Gang of Six debt reduction plan gains traction

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., right, one of the Senators working on a bipartisan deal on the budget deficit, speaks with Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., outside of the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 19, 2011.
AP Photo/Harry Hamburg
Updated: 5:14 p.m. ET

A $3.7 trillion deficit reduction proposal put forth by the "Gang of Six" senators appears to be gaining traction in Washington on Tuesday, as President Obama and a handful of Democratic and Republican lawmakers began to rally in its favor.

Calling the proposal "broadly consistent with the approach I have urged," Mr. Obama on Tuesday praised the Gang of Six for its efforts, and called on congressional leadership to get down to "the hard business of crafting a plan that can move this forward in time for the August 2nd deadline."

"I think we're now seeing a potential for a bipartisan consensus," the president told reporters.

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Despite months of negotiations by the Gang of Six on an agreement to raise the debt limit, talks stalled in May when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., abruptly pulled out of the group and deemed the debate at an "impasse."

On Tuesday, however, the Republican senator announced that he was rejoining the group, and endorsed its deficit reduction proposal as a "way forward."

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., right, one of the Senators working on a bipartisan deal on the budget deficit, speaks with Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., outside of the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 19, 2011.
AP Photo/Harry Hamburg

"The plan has moved significantly, and it's where we need to be -- and it's a start," Coburn told reporters. "This doesn't solve our problems, but it creates the way forward where we can solve our problems." special report: America's debt battle

Coburn joined Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Mark Warner D-Va., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. -- the remaining members of the Gang of Six -- in supporting the proposal.

According to the plan's executive summary, which describes the proposal as a "bipartisan, comprehensive, and balanced plan consistent with the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission," the legislation would employ a two-step process. First, it would impose $500 billion worth of immediate deficit cuts; then, a second bill would enact "comprehensive reform" aimed at putting the nation "on a stable fiscal path." The second part of the plan calls for dramatic cuts to discretionary spending as well as fundamental reforms to the tax code and entitlement programs.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a member of the Gang of Six, said the initial $500 billion in reductions would come through spending caps and other provisions, but that the plan overall would cut more than $4 trillion over the coming decade.

Conrad added, however, that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) would only rate the plan at $1.5 trillion in savings, because the CBO "scores tax changes in comparison to current law."

"If we used the baseline that the fiscal commission used, the savings of this package would be close to $4.7 trillion," Conrad said. "So we are not getting credit for those spending cuts that have already occurred through the [Continuing Resolution]. We don't get credit for those."

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Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., expressed his own support for the plan in the context of its growing popularity among lawmakers. "There's a lot of support for turning the gang into a mob," he said, according to The Hill. "Count me in...I've long held this is what we need to do. The credit agencies are saying it's not enough to take care of the debt limit. We have to take care of the long-term fiscal scenario."

A growing number of Republicans not involved in negotiations have also expressed what appears to be openness to, if not outright support for, the plan: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, on Tuesday announced his support for the proposal.

"Like dozens of other senators, I have attended briefings and meetings sponsored by the Gang of Six for the last six months, and I believe their recommendations are a serious bipartisan effort to stop Washington from spending money it doesn't have. I support it," he said Tuesday, adding that "There are no three better respected or more conservative members of the Republican caucus than [Gang of Six] Senators Chambliss, Coburn and Crapo."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., predicted "a fair amount of enthusiasm" for the proposal's prospects.

"I think you'll see a fair amount of enthusiasm the possibility that this could be integrated and a part of a debt-ceiling fix, with substantial cuts and with a pathway to real reform," he said, according to Politico. "I think everybody is going to realize nobody is going to get 100 percent of everything they want."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-K.Y., who last week proposed his own "back-up plan" for raising the debt limit, told reporters on Tuesday that while he had been briefed on the Gang of Six plan, he wasn't yet sure how he felt about it.

Still, while some are predicting that the plan could gain sufficient momentum to pass through the Senate, its prospects in the GOP-dominated House remain unclear.

"This process is moving pretty quickly and obviously the House and White House have to be brought into it," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "It's a challenge."

House Speaker John Boehner, in the meantime, maintained that House Republicans were still focused on their "cut, cap and balance" plan, which is widely believed will fail in the Senate.

"This plan shares many similarities with the framework the Speaker discussed with the president, but also appears to fall short in some important areas," he said via spokesperson in a Tuesday statement. "The House is voting today on our Cut, Cap, & Balance plan, and we hope the Senate will take it up soon. That remains our focus."

Even leading democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, however, expressed skepticism that the plan could feasibly pass by the August 2 deadline under even the best circumstances.

"It takes weeks and months to score things by [the] CBO," he said. "This is huge. It's 3.7 trillion dollars."