Impatient with supercommittee, lawmakers mull Plan B to cut deficit

Democratic and Republican members of the Senate’s Gang of Six say they could put together a large deficit-reduction package quickly if the supercommittee misses its Nov. 23 deadline.

Even if the supercommittee reaches its mandate to find at least $1.2 trillion in savings, lawmakers say more needs to be done.

Gang of Six members say they have almost completed drafting legislation that would implement the deal the group reached this summer. They say they are holding back for now to avoid treading on toes.

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“The Gang of Six has a deal, and it’s a deal that is of sufficient clarity and detail that it can be put into legislative language,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a member of the group. “I would say we’re close enough that I think in short order, I don’t know whether that would be a couple days or couple of weeks, it could actually [be] put in fine-tuned language.”

Crapo said he would vote for it on the Senate floor.

Rank-and-file lawmakers have grown frustrated with the supercommittee and say they should take matters into their own hands if the panel doesn’t have a breakthrough.

“Why couldn’t we just take what the Gang of Six did?” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “Pieces of it have been put into language. So that may be Plan B.

“We’re running out of daylight,” she added.

Murkowski joined 19 Senate colleagues, including five members of the Gang of Six, at a news conference Wednesday morning to urge the supercommittee to “go big.” A group of Republican and Democratic House lawmakers joined the event.

They want the supercommittee to produce an agreement that would shave at least $3 trillion from the federal deficit. Budget experts estimate it would take a package of $3 trillion to $4 trillion to put the ratio of debt to GDP at a manageable level.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), another member of the Gang of Six, said the bill “could be ready in short order,” though he said no action would be taken until after the supercommittee’s Nov. 23 deadline.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), praised the deal reached by the Gang of Six in July. Their support could give the Gang of Six’s bill political momentum if the supercommittee deadlocks.

“We have a bill,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a member of the Gang of Six, told The Hill on Tuesday.

Conrad said the legislation would raise about $1.2 trillion in new tax revenue, depending on the baseline used as a measure. He said the ratio of spending cuts to tax increases would be more than 2 to 1.

Conrad said the legislation would have to be revised to account for spending cuts included in the Budget Control Act, which Congress passed in August to raise the debt ceiling.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) told The Hill in July he would support the Gang of Six proposal.

“Count me in,” Udall said. “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.”

Some lawmakers, however, have dismissed the Gang of Six’s plan as overhyped.

“The authors of the summary claim that their approach would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion. But my staff on the Budget Committee can only find $1.2 trillion in reduced spending, along with a tax increase of $1 trillion,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, said in July. “Where does the other $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction come from?”

A GOP aide said lawmakers rushed to praise the proposal before learning its details.

“The last time the Gang of Six came forward with a well-meaning proposal, people were very enthusiastic until they saw the details, and it didn’t come close to living up to its billing,” said the aide.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in July declined to endorse the framework but said he was open to including elements of it in legislation to raise the national debt limit.

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The plan unveiled in July called for a $500 billion down payment toward deficit reduction and a second measure to save an additional $3.2 trillion in savings. The second round of savings was left to the discretion of the committees of jurisdiction, which would receive savings targets.

It would seek to hold the growth of spending on healthcare entitlement programs to GDP plus 1 percent per beneficiary. Again, the committees of jurisdiction would be tasked with working out the details.

Members of the Gang of Six also agreed to a provision that would delay the enactment of the plan pending Social Security reform. 

That reform must ensure 75 years of solvency for Social Security and would be determined by the committees of jurisdiction.

An aide to another member of the Gang of Six said Tuesday that the legislative draft needs revision.

“In August, we had drafted texts for the things they agreed on,” the aide said. “It wasn’t a full package. That was circulated among staff. No members signed off on it.”

Erik Wasson contributed to this report.