If anyone can save us from the peril of a federal government default, it's the Gang of Six, that bipartisan Senate crew who worked for months on a way to fix the debt crisis using the framework of the Bowles-Simpson commission -- then broke up when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., got all David Lee Roth on everybody and struck out on his own. But after he got that Just a Gigolo $9 trillion debt reduction plan out of his system, he dramatically returned this morning as the Gang of Six finally released its proposal to more than 40 senators from both parties.
Politico has a good rundown of the plan, which would take as much as $3.7 trillion off the deficit over the next decade by eliminating some tax breaks and relying heavily on committees to fill in the details on entitlement reform and appropriations cuts, but the framework would make sure those cuts do happen. The framers hope that they can carve out enough of the middle to get to 60 Senate votes on the plan and perhaps a way out of the impasse, but attendance at the meeting did not necessarly signal support.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., was there and said he was encouraged by the turnout -- the most senators from both parties he's seen for anything aside from an intelligency briefing.
"It's rare that we're in settings like that, too rare," he said. But he was far from endorsing it: "I'm still looking at the details of it. It was an interesting proposal."Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., did not attend and said he had seen an outline, but "I haven't seen anything with enough specificity to have an informed opinion." Toomey has his own budget, which calls for $4.2 trillion in cuts without revenue hikes or significant Medicare changes, though that failed in a Senate vote.
The proposal was one of few glimpses of optimism in this fractious debt battle, as centrists from both parties expressed mild support. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., proclaimed it "the most encouraging thing we have before us right now."
President Obama also praised the proposal, speaking a few minutes ago in the White House briefing room, calling it "a very significant step."
But the biggest hurdle remains the GOP-run House, which tonight will vote on a plan called "Cut, Cap and Balance" that has no prayer of passing the Senate. It would bring in spending caps and require a balanced budget amendment that sets spending at 18 percent of GDP (right now, it's 24 percent) before passing any debt limit increase.
Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, said he has been in meetings all morning with the Blue Dog Democrats, the New Democrats and others who are looking at the Gang of Six plan and it's possible a centrist coalition could put out a statement of support for the plan today -- but their support would be largely meaningless without GOP partners.
Coburn photo with his "Back in Black" budget proposal by J. Scott Applewhite/AP.