A member of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators trying to devise a long-term deficit-reduction plan said he may not agree to any proposal in time for a vote on raising the U.S. debt limit.
“I do not let external factors like that cause me to set a timetable or a deadline,” said Senator Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican. Asked his view of how the negotiations were going, Crapo said, “I go like this,” tracing with his finger a jagged line that moved up and down. “I’m halfway on a ‘down’ but hoping that I’m going to be on an ‘up’ real fast.”
Crapo’s comments yesterday, along with remarks by Senate leaders of both parties casting doubt on prospects for a quick debt-cutting deal, suggested that momentum behind the Gang of Six may be flagging at a pivotal time in the talks. They are debating income tax revisions and methods of controlling costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Gang of Six co-leader Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, asked today whether he was as optimistic about reaching an agreement as he was before Congress’s two-week recess last month, said, “Probably so. We’re keeping our head down and working hard.”
Many Republicans insist that they won’t agree to raise the debt limit without a plan to cut the deficit.
‘Clock is Ticking’
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday “the clock is ticking” and that a separate group of lawmakers led by Vice President Joe Biden was more likely to agree on a deficit- reduction plan. That group is scheduled to meet tomorrow.
“The only way I can conclude that something is likely to get a result anytime soon is in these debt-ceiling talks” that Biden is leading, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters.
The two Republicans who will participate in those talks, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and second-ranking Senate Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, sent a letter to Biden asking that Obama submit a specific proposal that can be analyzed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The president last month outlined his approach for reducing cumulative deficits by $4 trillion over 12 years.
“We believe a detailed proposal from the president will be key to the success of the working group and vital for Congress to make progress on these very important issues,” Kyl and Cantor wrote in a letter dated yesterday.
Many lawmakers consider the debt-limit vote their best opportunity this year to force major changes in the federal budget. The Treasury Department said this week lawmakers will need to raise the $14.3 trillion debt cap by Aug. 2, three weeks later than it had previously predicted.
Four congressional Democrats will join the talks led by Biden: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, House Assistant Democratic leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, the House Budget Committee’s top-ranking Democrat.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the revised deadline gives his colleagues more time to consider their options. He said he urged them in a private meeting not to sign on to any of the competing budget-cutting proposals “until we know what the end game is.”
“There are a lot of things floating around here -- and I told my members just -- let’s not be signing on to all this stuff until we really know where we’re headed,” Reid told reporters. “We have some time to do some very, very good work here, but we have to do it deliberately.”
The Gang of Six, three Senate Republicans and three Democrats, is led by Chambliss and Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia.
Asked about the pressure to find agreement on a plan before the debt-limit vote, Crapo said there will still be other opportunities to address the deficit. He also said he opposes proposals to create a mechanism that would force automatic tax increases if lawmakers can’t agree on how to reduce the deficit.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad told reporters he planned to submit his own 2012 spending plan to his panel either this week or early next week. He had been postponing that plan to focus on the Gang of Six talks.
“No one should conclude” that his move reflects pessimism about the possibility of a bipartisan deal among the six senators, the North Dakota Democrat said. “The group of six doesn’t have a plan at this moment -- I’ve got to have a plan to take to the committee.”
Conrad said his budget proposal would make “modest savings out of Medicare,” and “borrows heavily” from the presidential deficit-cutting commission on which he served last year as well as “ideas from the group of six” senators.
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