‘Gang of Six’ talks could affect deal on long-term budget

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad is holding back the Senate Democrats’ budget plan to give a bipartisan group of senators more time to strike a deal on a long-term deficit-reduction proposal. 

Conrad (D-N.D.) is one of the “Gang of Six” negotiators working on a budget deal based on the recommendations of President Obama’s debt commission. The group hopes to put the debt commission’s proposals into legislation that could win a vote from Congress. 

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If the group fails to reach a deal, Conrad said he might include portions of its work in his budget proposal.

“I’ve prepared several different budget resolutions,” Conrad said. “I’m trying to give the Group of Six effort every chance.”

Conrad said he has not made a final decision on whether to use the Senate Democratic budget proposal to advance the recommendations of the fiscal commission. 

Conrad made clear on Tuesday, however, that he would not advance Medicare overhaul such as that proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Alice Rivlin, a former Democratic White House budget director.

“I don’t think that’s the way to go,” he said. “That really breaks the contract with people who have paid in for years. It is in effect a voucher system, but it’s a voucher for insurance companies.”

The six senators are sticking to the framework of President Obama’s debt commission and are focused on more modest reforms than those proposed Tuesday by House Republicans. 

For example, the group is looking at changes to the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program. Repealing the community living assistance portion of the 2010 healthcare reform law would cost $76 billion over the next nine years but save money over the longer term.


The bipartisan negotiators are also looking a discretionary spending cuts — including defense cuts — and tax reform that would wipe out many niche tax breaks and lower the broad income rates.

Conrad panned the budget proposal unveiled Tuesday by Ryan as “draconian,” dismissing the Republican’s call to convert Medicare into a premium support program as a giveaway to insurance companies. Under the proposal, the government would pay a fixed amount to insurance companies to cover beneficiaries

“I think that it completely lacks balance,” Conrad said of Ryan’s plan. “He has dramatic cuts in taxes for the wealthiest among us, and finances that by draconian cuts to those of us who are dependent on Medicaid and Medicare.”

The “Gang of Six” also includes Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).