‘Gang of Six’ Deficit-Reduction Plan Greeted Cautiously by Taxpayer Group, Republicans

By Susan Jones | July 20, 2011 | 10:02 AM EDT

U.S. Capitol (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Now that the Republican-led House has passed its "Cut, Cap and Balance" prescription for the U.S. economy, the focus switches to the Democrat-led Senate, where the deficit-reduction talk centers on a "Gang of Six" proposal.

Six senators -- three Republicans (Saxby Chambliss of Ga., Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Tom Coburn of Okla.) and three Democrats (Kent Conrad of N.D., Mark Warner of Va., and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois) -- have produced an outline that will grow into a bill.

The legislation will be largely based on the work of President Obama's deficit commission, led by former Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican, and Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo) said it appears this deficit reduction plan is one that senators from both sides can support:

“This plan could be the way out of all the angry rhetoric coming from both sides,” Enzi said after a bi-partisan meeting of about 50 senators on Tuesday.  “I’m sure there is not 100 percent agreement on all the decisions, but they realize that something has to be done.  It sounds like a positive effort at a passable solution.  I won’t be able to make a decision on it until I have read the bill, but I’m optimistic in light of the outline and explanation I’ve seen.  I’m very much looking forward to studying the details.”

Enzi said the Gang of Six plan provides “balance,” which is not the same as compromise:

“Compromise implies that you only make it half way to where either side wants to go. Balance says that they looked for the best of both sides and agreed on a combined plan that works together,” Enzi said. 

“I’m also hopeful this plan will empower congressional committees once again to play the vital role they should play in budget and all legislative matters.  Committees know the best ways to find savings in the areas of their jurisdiction.”

The group plans to release details of its legislative proposal soon, Enzi said.

Wait and see

A taxpayer watchdog group is taking a "wait and see" approach to the Gang of Six plan, which is an outline -- not yet written in legislative language.

According to Americans for Tax Reform, the plan "punts many decisions to the Senate Finance Committee.  It deals in ranges rather than specifics.  When it is eventually written down in legislative language and every American can read it, taxpayers will then learn whether the ‘plan’ raises taxes or cuts taxes and seriously reduces spending or fails to mandate spending reductions. 

"It is a mistake to invest one’s hopes or fears while the ‘plan’ remains unclear and subject to change by a Senate Finance Committee selected by Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.)," ATR concluded. "Best to wait until we can see up close what really is and isn’t there."

The Associated Press reported that the Gang of Six plan promises almost $4 trillion in deficit cuts, including an immediate 10-year, $500 billion down payment that would come as Congress sets caps on the agency budgets it passes each year. It also requires an additional $500 billion in cost curbs on federal health care programs, cuts to federal employee pensions, curbs in the growth of military health care and retirement costs, and modest cuts to farm subsidies.

It also requires what the Associated Press called “a major influx of new tax revenues,” derived from a congressional overhaul of the U.S. tax code. The plan would get rid of various tax loopholes, preferences and deductions and use the savings to sharply lower income tax rates. 

The tax reform outline would set up three income tax rates -- a bottom rate of 8-12 percent, a middle rate of 14-22 percent and top rate of 23-29 percent -- to replace the current system, which has a bottom rate of 10 percent with five additional rates, topping out at 35 percent.

It would reduce but not eliminate tax breaks on mortgage interest, higher-cost health plans, charitable deductions, retirement savings and families with children.

House GOP leaders pointed to promised reductions in income tax rates rather than the net increase in overall tax collections:

"On the positive side, the tax rates identified in the Gang's plan -- with a top rate of no more than 29 percent -- and the president's endorsement of them are a positive development and an improvement over previous discussions," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said.

"That said, I am concerned with the Gang of Six's revenue target." Cantor said the plan "fails to significantly address the largest drivers of America’s debt, and it is unclear how the goals of tax and entitlement reforms would be enforced. I continue to caution that a tax increase is the wrong policy to pursue with so many Americans out of work."

‘Good news’

President Obama called it "good news" that the Gang of Six has "put forward a proposal that is broadly consistent with the approach that I've urged.  What it says is we've got to be serious about reducing discretionary spending, both in domestic spending and defense; we've got to be serious about tackling health care spending and entitlements in a serious way; and we've got to have some additional revenue so that we have an approach in which there is shared sacrifice and everybody is giving up something."

Obama repeated that his "balanced approach" includes a package of spending cuts, modifications to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare (to “strengthen” those programs) and a "revenue" (tax hike) component. 

"We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach," Obama said.

(The Associated Press contributed some of the information used in this report.)