By Erik Wasson - 10/19/11 06:31 PM EDT
The members of the Senate Gang of Six outlined their deficit plan and shared advice with the 12 members of the new deficit-cutting supercommittee on Wednesday.
Afterward, true to form, all 18 lawmakers in the meeting refused to reveal what cuts are on the table.
“I am not going to talk about what was discussed or what wasn’t discussed,” Gang member Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), said while being chased by reporters.
If anybody knows what it is like to be a member of the deficit supercommittee, it’s the members of the Senate Gang of Six.
Both groups have met in secret trying to forge a deal substantial cuts to the deficit. Both have considered major tax and entitlement reforms and both have made party leadership, the White House and K Street very nervous.
“We empathize and sympathize with the overwhelming job they have,” Gang member Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said after the meeting. “Having lived with this issue in excess of a year as the Gang of Six we know what a challenge it is … and we are very confident that in the end of the day, they will produce something very positive.”
The key difference between the groups is that the Gang of Six grand bargain was ultimately struck between three Republicans and three Democrats and promptly ignored by Congress.
The supercommittee, in contrast, appears on track to fall short of a $4 trillion grand bargain; by law, however, Congress must vote on its product.
Gang members urged the supercommittee to think big and go beyond its stated goal of $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts. Most budget experts agree that at least $4 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years is needed to stop the exponential growth of the national debt.
“I am optimistic that they will do what is needed,” Gang member Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said. “As a nation we need a balanced, comprehensive plan to get this debt under control.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) noted that 44 senators have said they support a plan along the lines of what the Gang of Six produced.
“When they make some bold choices we want to support them,” he said.
After the meeting with the Gang of Six, supercommittee co-chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) led an hour-long meeting with fellow committee Republicans to discuss strategy.
Another supercommittee meeting is set for Thursday. The group has until Nov. 23 to produce its report, and is trying to project confidence.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the other supercommittee co-chairman, brushed away suggestions that the panel was lacking direction and still looking at issues from the 30,000-foot level.
“We’re at every foot,” Murray told reporters.
Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance Committee chairman, also responded to a New York Times story that suggested party leaders thought the panel was making little progress.
“Well, I read that article,” Baucus said. “And I thought, well, gee, he’s not in the room. He’s misinformed.”
Bernie Becker contributed.