House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE (R-Ohio) is keeping close watch on the Gang of Six, the bipartisan Senate group that could force House Republicans to take tough votes on tax reform.
Republican Sens. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (Ga.), Tom CoburnTom CoburnDon't be fooled: Carper and Norton don't fight for DC Coburn: Trump's tweets aren't presidential The road ahead for America’s highways MORE (Okla.) and Mike CrapoMike CrapoSenators war over Wall Street during hearing for Trump's SEC pick Overnight Finance: Biz groups endorse Trump's Labor pick | New CBO score coming before health bill vote | Lawmakers push back on public broadcasting cuts Senate Banking panel seeks proposals for economic growth MORE (Idaho) met with BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE Thursday afternoon to discuss the Gang of Six talks, which could produce a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan in early May.
One source characterized the meeting as “a status update.”
If the group reaches an agreement, it will likely include a plan to reform the tax code in a way to generate hundreds of billions of dollars in new tax revenues for the government.
Coburn, the most outspoken GOP member of the group, has spoken out in favor of tax reform and battled conservative critics who oppose any reform that would increase the net burden on taxpayers.
Conservatives expect that Boehner would try to put the breaks on any deficit-reduction deal that raised the net level of taxation.
“Since he’s signed a pledge to never vote for a bill like that, he would probably tell them it's not a good idea,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a group vehemently opposed to tax increases, said of the meeting between Boehner and Gang of Six members.
An agreement by the Gang of Six to reduce the federal deficit by cutting discretionary spending, reforming entitlements and reshaping the tax code has a good chance of attracting broad support in the Senate.
Chambliss, Coburn and Crapo have solid conservative credentials and are respected in the upper chamber for their policy acumen.
Durbin, Conrad and Warner wield strong influence in their caucus.
If the six lawmakers reach a deal, it might draw support from the mainstream of both parties, paving the way for Senate passage.
But Senate passage of a deficit-reduction package that raises $750 billion to $1 trillion in tax revenues through reform of the tax code would put the chamber on a collision course with the House.
“Speaker Boehner has never voted for a tax increase, and that isn’t going to change,” Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, told The Hill last month.
House Republican leaders, however, may have a difficult time resisting a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan from the Senate if President Obama throws his weight behind it.
The Gang of Six is putting together an agreement that would be based largely on the work of the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction panel, which Obama endorsed this past week.
Obama outlined his own vision for deficit reduction at George Washington University Wednesday, acknowledging his approach “borrows from the recommendations of the bipartisan fiscal commission that I appointed last year.”
Obama is eager for the Gang of Six to wrap up its negotiations, and he put pressure on the group to speed things along by announcing his decision to tap Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: I regret not being president Biden: 'McCain is right: Need select committee' for Russia With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE to head bipartisan deficit-reduction talks on the Hill starting next month.
There’s growing concern that the Gang of Six negotiations may drag on without reaching a deal, similar to the laggardly healthcare negotiations that Sen. Max BaucusMax BaucusGOP hasn’t reached out to centrist Dem senators Five reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through Business groups express support for Branstad nomination MORE (D-Mont.) led for months in 2009. Those talks ultimately proved fruitless and sapped political momentum from healthcare reform.
“They’re impatient and I don’t blame them,” Durbin said of the president and his advisers in a Thursday interview. “Let’s look back at the healthcare debate. There was a study group there that never finished.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over healthcare GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE (R-Ky.), who became a fierce opponent of the healthcare reform legislation, kept close tabs on the three Republicans who met Baucus in 2009: Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Friends, foes spar in fight on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Iowa) and Mike EnziMike EnziTop Dem: Trump's State Dept. cuts a 'Ponzi scheme' Republicans eye strategy for repealing Wall Street reform Lawmakers fundraise amid rising town hall pressure MORE (Wyo.).
Snowe, Grassley and Enzi characterized their frequent conversations with McConnell as status updates, but Democrats suspected that McConnell was holding them back from striking a deal.
Conservatives such as Norquist expect that Boehner would try to put the brakes on a deficit-reduction deal that would raise taxes and force a tough vote on members of his caucus.
Senate insiders say that it’s natural that Chambliss would meet with Boehner because they are close friends from their days of service together in the House. Coburn and Crapo also served with Boehner in the 1990s.
But their shared history doesn’t mean they see eye-to-eye on fiscal issues — Coburn and Crapo voted against the budget deal Boehner crafted with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE (D-Nev.) to cut nearly $40 billion from 2011 spending levels.
Boehner declined to comment on the meeting with the Gang of Six members when asked about it afterward during a hallway interview. Chambliss said “no comment” when queried on his way from the meeting to the Senate Intelligence Committee room.
A spokesman for Coburn and a spokeswoman for Crapo also declined to comment.
Durbin said Democratic Gang of Six members have given status updates to Obama.