November 23, 2014

Why We Need The Gang Of Six

As members of The Concord Coalition Board of Directors and former members of Congress, we strongly support efforts by the bipartisan group of six Senators who have been working together to craft a deficit reduction plan based on the recommendations of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. 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 of Six are U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R - Ga.), Tom Coburn (R - Okla.), Kent Conrad (D - N.D.),  Mark Crapo (R - Ida.), Richard Durbin (D - Ill) and Mark Warner (D - Va.).

We urge the Senators to see their effort through despite resistance from partisan advocates and only tepid support from party leaders.

The group’s work is important for several reasons:

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. Given the magnitude of the problem, and the need to balance political risks for members of both parties, nothing should be exempt from scrutiny, including entitlements, defense and taxes.

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 has no support from Republicans. A new bipartisan group, convened by the President and headed by Vice President Joe Biden, has the potential to reach a limited agreement on legislation to raise the debt ceiling. There are already indications, however, that the difficult choices on core issues such as health care and taxes will not be part of any plan they come up with.

It could produce 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. If the Senate group is able to agree on a plan, it will serve as a beacon for those who wish to support meaningful bipartisan solutions. It would spark a more realistic debate about the inevitable trade-offs that must be confronted and marginalize those who insist that their way is the only way. Moreover, with the group having come this far, failure to produce a plan could be seen as confirmation that our political system is indeed incapable of dealing with the fiscal challenge.

To be clear, a Senate bipartisan plan would just be the start of tough negotiations that must involve the House, the Obama Administration and the public. However, its value as a catalyst for action should not be minimized.

With positioning for the 2012 elections already becoming a factor, heavy pressure may be brought to bear on the Senators to disband their efforts or, at least, to put them on the back burner. This would be a mistake. 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.

We need them to be successful, and they have our support.

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