The din of partisan bickering in Washington subsided briefly this week when six Republican and Democratic senators unveiled a long-awaited proposal to rein in the runaway federal deficit. The so-called Gang of Six made the same point that a slew of nonpartisan and bipartisan budget commissions have made over the last year: Washington's fiscal problems are so big that solving them will be painful for all concerned. The question is whether enough members of Congress can accept that premise and embrace a deal that forces both parties out of their ideological corners.
Although they are still working on some of the details, the six reached agreement on the main elements of their plan, which would reduce projected deficits by about $3.7 trillion over the coming decade. It would use a combination of spending cuts, benefit reductions and revenue increases — achieved through a tax overhaul that lowers rates but eliminates numerous tax breaks — to stop the national debt from growing faster than the economy by 2015.
Not surprisingly, the plan has drawn complaints from the left about cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and from the right about defense cuts and tax increases. But the senators are right about the need to simplify and broaden the tax code and to put entitlements on a sustainable footing without slashing aid to the most vulnerable. It's worth debating whether their plan spreads the pain fairly, and whether the tax and spending reforms would help the economy grow faster. Those considerations should be paramount in any effort to close the budget gap. But there should be no debate over the need for compromise.