September 2, 2014

Concord Coalition Welcomes Plan by the “Gang of Sense”

More than two months ago we urged the bipartisan Gang of Six (Senators Chambliss, Coburn, Conrad, Crapo, Durbin and Warner) to persist in their efforts to craft a deficit reduction plan based on the recommendations of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Bowles-Simpson).

Since then, events have demonstrated why the group’s work is so important. Other approaches, including high-profile negotiations between the President and congressional leaders, have failed to produce results.  

Now, the Gang of Six has returned with a bipartisan proposal to cut the deficit by nearly $4 trillion through 2021 and stabilize the growth of debt at a sustainable level. All parts of the budget, including domestic discretionary spending, defense, entitlements and taxes would be subject to scrutiny. Savings targets would be given to the appropriate congressional committees with across-the-board cuts in areas where committees fail to achieve their targets, while protecting those most in need.

The proposal is tough but politically viable because it calls for broad sacrifice. Indeed, it is the basic concession to political reality – that no one can get everything they want and all must accept some things they don’t want – that gives the Gang of Six proposal its breakthrough potential. 

As former members of Congress, we recognize that filling in the details of this proposal through the legislative process will be difficult. However, we continue to believe that the cooperative approach taken by the senators’ group is the most promising route to enactment of legislation curbing the economically destructive and generationally inequitable explosion of debt that awaits if we don’t change course.

The Gang’s proposal has much to be commended:

It addresses a crucial need. There is no question that current fiscal policy is unsustainable and that legislative action is needed to avoid a crisis. The basic problem is a growing structural gap between projected revenues and spending, mostly driven by an aging population and rising health care costs. We cannot hope that economic growth alone will be the cure.

It recognizes that there must be a comprehensive solution. The natural tendency in Washington is to begin deficit-reduction negotiations by taking things off the table. This may please each party’s political base but it makes it all the more difficult to agree on a plan with credible numbers and political viability.

It perfectly fits the need to combine a debt limit increase with a credible commitment to fiscal sustainability. We believe there must be no delay in raising the debt limit. It is not in the nation’s interests to flirt with default in any form. At the same time, many in both parties have shown increasing interest in a “grand bargain” as part of a measure to increase the debt limit. It is clear that there is not enough time to negotiate, draft and enact major legislation before the debt limit hits. But if progress can be made on a larger agreement, such as the Gang of Six proposal, raising the debt limit to accommodate the time needed to complete the process should not be a problem.

It is bipartisan. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, and even if one did, neither party has the votes nor the public trust to muscle through a one-sided solution. Finding bipartisan solutions is not an abstract virtue; it is a practical necessity.

It is unique. Bipartisan cooperation on deficit reduction is in short supply. The budget adopted by the House of Representatives has no support from Democrats and thus no chance of becoming law. Similarly, the President’s budget and subsequent “framework,” have no support from Republicans. The bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, and later by the President, made some progress but have so far failed to reach consensus on difficult core issues such as Medicare and tax reform.

It is a plan for others to rally around. As of now, members of Congress and the public have a choice between partisan plans, which will get us nowhere, and the status quo, which is unsustainable. The Gang of Six proposal serves as a beacon for those who wish to support meaningful bipartisan solutions. It confronts the inevitable trade-offs that must be made and defies those who insist that compromise is a fool’s errand.

The public is justifiably alarmed by the growing debt and tired of the partisan blame game. No other group of current lawmakers has taken it upon themselves to break the dynamic of gridlock and set the nation on a more hopeful and sustainable fiscal path.

With this proposal, the Gang of Six has become the Gang of Sense. This is one gang we urge others to join.

Former Senator Warren B. Rudman   Former Senator Bob Kerrey
Former Senator Evan Bayh III
   Former Senator Judd Gregg
Former Representative J. Alex McMillan   Former Senator Sam Nunn 
Former Representative Timothy J. Penny   Former Senator Chuck Robb
Former Representative Charlie Stenholm   Former Representative John Tanner