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Senate's 'Gang of Six' soldiers on, minus one member

May 18, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP )

The remaining five senators working on deficit reduction legislation emerged from closed-door talks Wednesday to announce they would continue meeting despite having lost a key Republican in the bipartisan talks.

The senators jointly said they would meet again Thursday, according to a spokesman for Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the top Democrat in the group.

But whether the senators will be able to coalesce around a bipartisan budget proposal remains unknown. Many in Washington considered the group essentially defunct after Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma announced this week he would be taking a break from participation.

Coburn had been considered a crucial member because his conservative credentials allowed him to consider tax reforms that are politically difficult for other Republicans to entertain.  

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, one of the Democratic members, indicated the size of the group might be in flux.

Another Republican member, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, had said group would not be operable with three Democrats and two Republican, adding that he did not intend to try and replace Coburn.

The group has been trying since January to draft legislation to achieve $4 trillion in deficit tax and spending reforms over the next decade modeled after the recommendations of President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission.

Republican leaders have rejected any proposed tax increase to help bring down deficits, insisting on spending cuts.

Coburn was deeply criticized for his tax stance by conservative groups, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. Ultimately, Coburn walked away from talks this week after his proposal for immediate Medicare cuts was rejected as too extreme.

The group met late Wednesday, without Coburn, and agreed to continue discussions.

lmascaro@tribune.com

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