Durbin: Gang of Six was ready to unveil its plan

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Six was ready to announce a budget deal before its arguably most conservative member, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), dropped out on Tuesday.

“We had a deal that cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, and as far as I was concerned we were ready to announce it when [Coburn] left,” Durbin said on “State of the Union.”

Tension between the two had reportedly built over Coburn’s desire for more drastic cuts to Medicare.

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Since leaving on what he called “a sabbatical,” Coburn has announced he will release his own proposal to reduce spending by $9 trillion over the next decade.

Asked Sunday if he thought Coburn would return to the group, Durbin said he did not. “But I hope he does,” Durbin added.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) suggested in an interview Friday that Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) take Coburn’s place, but said Portman is “reticent” and would need to “be invited.” The group has negotiated for five months.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that the various budget plans are “interesting,” but that the “real action” is in the debt-cutting sessions led by Vice President Joe Biden.

“Candidly, none of these budgets are going to become law,” McConnell said — a comment mirrored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who acknowledged on “Meet the Press ” that negotiations will be necessary to cut the debt.

“Of course we would [negotiate]. This is the legislative process,” Ryan said.

McConnell has made it clear, according to reports, that he will vote for Ryan’s plan, but is not whipping the Senate Republican Caucus on the vote.

“What I’ve said to my members is that we’re not going to be able to coalesce behind just one [plan],” he said. 

“What I’m willing to say is we’re going to have to change Medicare, and it’s going to happen soon. It’s going to happen in connection with the talks going on with the vice president that are happening right now, and it’s going to happen in connection with raising the debt ceiling,” he said.

McConnell also repeated that he was against “raising tax rates,” which some have identified as a slight shift in the GOP position since it would not rule out collecting more revenue using methods like tax-code reform.

McConnell’s apparent confidence in Biden’s debt-cutting talks stands in contrast to recent comments from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a participant who told Fox News a week ago that the group is playing “small ball compared to the overall job that we’re going to have to do.”

Sources close to the negotiators say they’ve found $200 billion in cuts so far, drawn from areas of the budget that are not politically sensitive.


With Daniels out, Armey eyes Ryan

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said he was disappointed that Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) took himself out of the 2012 GOP presidential field, but that is already working on a possible new recruit, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“It’s a big disappointment that [Daniels] is getting out,” Armey said on “State of the Union.” “Time to start drafting Paul Ryan.”

On “Meet the Press,” Ryan denied any plans to run for president in 2012.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) appeared on “Face the Nation” to try to clarify his position.

He also answered questions about his and his wife’s $500,000 account at Tiffany & Co., which he said he paid in full without interest.

“It was a normal way of doing business,” Gingrich said. “We are very frugal.”


Mitchell: 1967 border emphasis was wrong

Former Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell said a return to the 1967 borders was not a precondition for the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and that the administration had erred in the way it communicated its message on the issue.

Mitchell said President Obama meant to emphasize he wanted land swaps agreed upon between both parties, not that they had to go back to the 1967 lines.

“The mistake was not making that as clear as we should have,” Mitchell said on “This Week.” “We should have made that more clear.”

Mitchell said the president’s proposal was similar to one made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Obama spoke Thursday about his views on Middle Eastern relations with the United States, and then met Friday in the White House with current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lectured the president on Israeli history and rejected Obama’s plan as “indefensible.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said on “State of the Union” that the president’s moves were “a colossal mistake for negotiations” and that he should have acted behind closed doors rather than in public.


Gingrich strives for truce on Ryan plan

Many conservatives speculated that former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) presidential campaign was finished last week after he characterized House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan for Medicare as being too extreme.

Gingrich said this week on “Face the Nation” that he only meant that neither party should implement something that is against the will of the American people. He said he supports Ryan’s plan and would have voted for Ryan’s plan if he were still in the House today.

“I think it’s a big plan that needs to be worked through with the American people,” Gingrich said. “It will be modified.”

On “Meet the Press,” Ryan said Gingrich’s first statement was a “deep mischaracterization of the House Republican budget plan.”

“Newt has basically … retracted the statement,” Ryan said.