By Alexander Bolton - 04/16/11 09:54 PM EDT
House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerClinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report Boehner on Cruz: 'Lucifer is back' 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 CoburnThe Trail 2016: Words matter Ex-Sen. Coburn: I won’t challenge Trump, I’ll vote for him Coburn: I haven't seen 'self-discipline' from Trump MORE (Okla.) and Mike CrapoMike CrapoGOP warming up to Cuba travel Ann Coulter: VP pick is Trump's first mistake Overnight Finance: Freedom Caucus moves to impeach IRS chief | Calls for US-UK trade talks | Clinton ally offers trade for Trump tax returns MORE (Idaho) met with BoehnerJohn BoehnerClinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report Boehner on Cruz: 'Lucifer is back' 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 BidenWhy Kaine is the right choice for Clinton Why Mike Pence is the wrong pick on foreign policy Advisers: Trump's revised tax plan will resemble Ryan's 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 BaucusGlover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft Wyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny 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 McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days 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 GrassleyTop Dem Senate hopefuls to skip convention Election to shape Supreme Court Why one senator sees Gingrich as Trump's best VP choice MORE (Iowa) and Mike EnziMike EnziSanford-Enzi 'Penny Plan' gets nation to a balanced budget Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention Judd Gregg: The silver lining 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 ReidSuper-PAC targets Portman on trade Dem leader urges compromise on FCC set-top box plan Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension 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.