By Alexander Bolton and Erik Wasson - 07/19/11 07:33 PM EDT
Key Senate Democrats on Tuesday said the Gang of Six’s $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction proposal could not be included in a package to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2.
Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), a member of the Gang of Six, said Tuesday the group’s plan is not ready to be attached to legislation to increase the debt limit.
“The Gang of Six plan has not been drafted nor has it been scored by the CBO — it’s not ready for prime time,” Durbin said, making reference to the Congressional Budget Office. “But as a concept, I think we have the starting concepts together, and that’s what we presented today.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he is open to including elements of the Gang of Six deficit-reduction plan in a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, but declined to say he supports it as drafted.
Reid said he asked Gang member Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) to come back to him within 24 hours on elements that he thinks could be included in a fallback bill to raise the debt ceiling.
“If there is a way in the next few days to improve upon the legislation that we are talking about doing, I am happy to take elements of the Gang of Six and work with me to get that done,” Reid said.
The group’s plan received bipartisan praise from senators when it was revealed on Tuesday. President Obama also offered compliments, saying its release was good news.
But Durbin said the proposal was not ready to move through Congress, which has only two weeks to raise the debt ceiling before Aug. 2, when the Treasury Department says it will no longer have the money to pay all the nation’s bills.
Durbin said it could take weeks or months for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the deficit-reduction effect of the massive package. He said flatly there is no time to do it before national borrowing authority runs out Aug. 2.
Durbin also dismissed the idea of passing a short-term increase of the debt limit to give lawmakers more time to put together a grand bargain.
“No. No. No. The president said he’d veto that and I’m opposed to it too, I think it’s a bad idea,” Durbin said. “With our economy in this precarious condition, short-term extensions of the debt ceiling, I think, would hurt us. You can expect a downgrading of our credit status and a negative impact on our economy.”
Reid also cast doubt given the short time frame for senators, while noting that because the Gang plan raises revenue, it would have to start in the House under the Constitution.
“I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the enthusiasm for the Gang of Six, but I am the one who runs the Senate and I understand what the rules of the Senate are,” he said. “Remember, we have only 13 days.”
Democratic aides said Tuesday that it would be very difficult to pair the Gang of Six framework with a debt-limit increase because so many details remain to be filled in.
Reid and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who also stopped short of endorsing the Gang of Six plan on Tuesday, have discussed legislation to give Obama authority to raise the debt ceiling, sparing lawmakers from having to vote for, or against, it. The legislation could include $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and set up a special committee to craft a larger deficit-reduction package.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said that the special committee set up by the McConnell-Reid plan could use the Gang of Six’s framework as a starting point.
Durbin declined to comment on this possibility. He said the Gang of Six would meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss next steps.