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The Atlantic: The Gang of Six Is Our Best Chance for a Debt Deal in This Congress

Author: Marc Goldwein
July 21, 2011

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The debt ceiling deadline is days away, but something unusual is happening in Congress. Rather than playing the short game, and following the old tradition of kicking important budget decisions down the road, dozens of senators are building the case to think long. Even as they plan a vote to avoid default, they have a rare opportunity to accompany a debt ceiling increase with a plan to bring our fiscal situation under control. They should take that opportunity.

In recent days, the real action has been in the Senate, where Senators Reid and McConnell are working to put together a package that would enact the lowest hanging fruit in deficit reduction (which will likely include domestic discretionary caps that could hurt investments and programs for the poor), while appointing a new fiscal commission to recommend the rest.

If this plan is the only way to avoid default, so be it. But $1 trillion in cuts doesn't solve our deficit crisis. It's a small idea. And as Senator Alan Simpson told me once, "Small ideas have no power to inspire."

There is a big idea out there, and it is gaining traction in the Senate. A bipartisan group of Senators known as the "Gang of Six" released their own plan yesterday, to a group of nearly 50 senators. Despite calling for reductions in Social Security and tax expenditures -- the sacred cows of the left and the right, respectively -- this $4 trillion plan has shown its power to inspire.

The Senate's third ranking Republican, Lamar Alexander, declared that "this is a serious, bipartisan proposal that will help stop Washington from spending money that we don't have, and I support it." Senator John Kerry also approved, saying "I think it could be a component of whatever the debt deal is, because I think a lot of people would feel comfortable doing the debt if they saw this as part of the package." As one Senator reported, the Gang of 6 is hoping to transform into a "Mob of 50."

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