Reid accuses Gang of Six deficit-cutters of 'happy talk' without offering proposals

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday dismissed the work of the Gang of Six as “happy talk,” dousing expectations that the group’s deficit-reduction plan will amount to much. 

Reid has never been a fan of the ad hoc bipartisan group, which has tried to create a deficit proposal outside the sanction of committee chairmen and party leaders. 

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It has never had a legislative success, and Reid could no longer contain his impatience with chatter over the Gang of Six’s deficit proposal.

“If someone has a proposal about reducing the deficit, the debt, here’s my suggestion: Put it in bill form, in writing, not all these happy statements about what people think can be done,” Reid told reporters. “I’m stunned by the Gang of Six that we hear so much about.”

Reid suggested Democrats in the Gang of Six are fooling themselves if they think Republicans in the group will go along with significant tax increases to reduce the deficit. 

More than 30 Republican senators signed a letter to the supercommittee this month urging them to produce a plan to balance the budget with no net tax increase. The three Republican members of the Gang of Six, Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), signed the letter. 

“So I say put it in bill form and have it scored, bring it to me and I’ll take a look at it. Other than that, it’s just happy talk,” Reid said. 

Reid appeared to run out of patience with the Gang of Six in June when he pooh-poohed hopes that it could produce a deficit-reduction package in time to help raise the national debt limit.

“My honest feeling is that I think we’re beyond gangs of five and gangs of six,” Reid told reporters.

But in the wake of last week’s failure of the supercommittee to come up with a plan to cut spending, the focus has shifted back to the Gang of Six, which spent much of this year working on a nearly $4 trillion deficit-reduction proposal.

Lawmakers frustrated over the committee’s collapse have called for a vote on proposals outlined by the Gang of Six. 

“Why couldn’t we just take what the Gang of Six did?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told The Hill earlier this month. “Pieces of it have been put into language. So that may be Plan B.”

 Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a member of the group, told The Hill earlier this month that a bill has been written and could go to the floor after a few revisions. 

“We have a bill,” he said, after it became clear the supercommittee would not be able to bridge partisan lines. 

Conrad said the legislation would need to be revised to reflect spending cuts Democratic and Republican leaders agreed to in the August deal to raise the debt limit. Otherwise, he says, it’s pretty much good to go. 

Conrad said the legislation would raise about $1.2 trillion in new tax revenue and include more than a 2-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. 

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), another member of the Gang of Six, has worked assiduously to build a large bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in favor of a deficit plan in the neighborhood of $4 trillion. A bipartisan group of 45 senators signed a letter in the fall pushing the supercommittee to go big. At a minimum, the supercommittee needed to cut $1.2 trillion in spending.

Chambliss said earlier this month that a bill from the Gang of Six “could be ready in short order.”

Crapo said the Gang of Six has a deal “of sufficient clarity and detail” that it could be put into legislative language, though he’s not sure how long it would take to put in “fine-tuned language.” 

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He said he would vote for it on the Senate floor. 

But Reid remains skeptical, as do other Senate insiders. 

“Remember the Thursday before we went out, I got a letter from 36 or 38 Republicans, three of them were Crapo, Coburn and Chambliss, all saying we’re not going to raise any taxes. They’re the three Republicans in the Gang of Six,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. 

An aide to one member of the Gang of Six said members of the group had begun drafting legislative text in August but did not complete a full package. The draft has been circulated among staff, but members of the group have yet to sign off on it.

This story was originally posted at 2:55 p.m. and has been updated.

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