'Gang of Five' opens talks to colleagues

After months of keeping their work secret, the remaining members of the Senate Gang of Six have opened up their negotiations to a broader group of Democratic and Republican colleagues.

About 18 senators, an even mix from both parties, met in Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin’s (Ill.) office Thursday to build support for the Gang of Six’s unfinished work.
 

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Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), a Republican member of the Gang of Six, said at an Economic Club of D.C. event this week that the group had neared agreement on $4.7 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.
 
Members of the gang were very close to an agreement, according to Democratic negotiators, until Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) pulled out of the group.
 
The remaining Republican members, Chambliss and Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), say they will not strike a final deal in Coburn’s absence.
 
Durbin and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) the Democratic members of the group are now trying to build broader bipartisan support around what the gang negotiated so far.
 
The lawmakers invited colleagues who signed a letter in March calling on President Obama to take the lead in comprehensive deficit reduction measures.
 
“My purpose is to make sure as many senators who urged us on, the 64 who signed the letter, have a chance to find out where we are, and give a sense of the package as it was developed. It’s not completed but how far we’ve gotten and what the elements are,” Conrad said. 
 
The 32 Democrats and 32 Republicans who signed the letter asked Obama to lead a broad discussion on spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform.
 
Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.), who organized the letter to Obama, attended the meeting in Durbin’s office. So did Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).
 
“We’ve reached a natural point at which it seemed like the next natural step is to share what we’ve been doing with other members,” Conrad said.
 
Conrad said it made sense for the remaining members of the gang to share their work because they were very close to reaching a conclusion.
 
Conrad, Durbin and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the third Democrat in the gang, are not looking replace Coburn, however. They hope he may rejoin their talks.