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Gang of Six plan gets boost in House, still faces uphill battle

UPDATED 12:32 p.m. ET
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.
Rep. Frank Wolf GETTY

A bipartisan plan to cut the deficit over the long-term got a boost in the House of Representatives within hours after a more conservative plan with no chance of becoming law was approved by the chamber, though it still faces a tough road ahead.

A pair of House lawmakers called for a vote on the so-called "Gang of Six" proposal, which re-emerged in the Senate Tuesday as a possible alternative way to raise the amount of money the U.S. can legally borrow by August 2.

The plan, which could reduce the deficit by about $3.7 trillion over the next ten years, was welcomed by President Obama on Tuesday.

Most economists, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, and the Obama administration have warned of economic calamity if the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling is not raised in less than two weeks.

Lawmakers from both parties want to use the threat of that deadline to come to a larger agreement that would reduce the deficit going forward. But that deal has been elusive as the two sides dug in their heels.

Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee urged House Speaker John Boehner to schedule a vote on the Senate plan, which includes about $1 trillion in higher revenue for the government. Many details of the plan are still to be determined.

"We applaud this effort and ask that you provide the opportunity to vote on this proposal as part of any request for an increase in the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline," Wolf and Cooper wrote in the letter dated Tuesday.

"The Gang of Six plan is bitter medicine and, while not perfect, could restore our fiscal health," Wolf and Cooper wrote, "there is never a convenient time to make tough decisions, but the longer we put off fixing the problem, the worse the medicine will be."

Will the Return of the Gang of Six End the Debt Ceiling Showdown?

President Obama on Tuesday offered praise for the Senate proposal, telling reporters that he thinks "we're now seeing a potential for a bipartisan consensus."

The proposal, backed by seven senators (one joined the original half dozen), still faces an uphill climb in the House, where conservative Tea Party members who want to shrink the size of government are opposed to anything that would bring more money into government coffers to balance the budget. Roughly $1 trillion of the savings in the "Gang of Six" plan would come from new tax revenue.

The House on Tuesday approved their "cut, cap and balance" plan by a vote of 234 to 190. That vote, however, was mostly symbolic: because any spending cuts would be contingent on the passage of a constitutional amendment, the bill would require approval from two-thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the Democrat-dominated Senate, achieving that support is likely impossible.

House Republican leaders did not immediately pronounce the plan dead on arrival, and pointed to promised reductions in income tax rates rather than the net increase in overall tax collections.

"On the positive side, the tax rates identified in the Gang's plan - with a top rate of no more than 29 percent - and the president's endorsement of them are a positive development and an improvement over previous discussions," House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said. "That said, I am concerned with the Gang of Six's revenue target."

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, head of a conservative House group known as the Republican Study Committee, was not moved.

"Let me be clear. This is the compromise. This is the best plan out there," Jordan said of the House-passed plan.

And it is not just conservatives who are opposed to the "Gang of Six" plan, and Democratic support may be critical for House passage, since many Republicans have vowed to oppose any increase in the debt limit.

"House Democrats hold the key to whatever plan can pass Congress. That's why the Senate 'Gang of Six' proposal is dead on arrival," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Grijalva noted that more than 70 House Democrats sent a letter to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi urging her to stand firm in opposition to any cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

But Pelosi on Wednesday said the Gang of Six plan "has some good principles in it," though she said she had not seen the details.