Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a member of the "Gang of Six" senators trying to cut a deal on a deficit-reduction plan, suggested on Tuesday that the group was on the verge of failure.
“We can’t bridge the gap between what actually needs to happen and what people will allow to happen,” Coburn told reporters.
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“I am discouraged,” Coburn said, following a Tuesday meeting of the group, which includes Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
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Once held out as the group most likely to produce a bipartisan deal that combined deficit reduction and tax changes that would allow a rise in the nation's debt ceiling, the gang has been increasingly stymied in recent weeks.
Coburn declined to specify what issues are preventing a deal by the gang members, some of whom signaled last month that they were on the cusp of a sweeping deficit-reduction deal modeled loosely on a proposal last year by the heads of President Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission.
Coburn left a Tuesday meeting of the gang early, prompting reports that he has pulled out of the talks, but he told reporters following a Senate floor speech: “I am a member of the gang.”
Coburn spokesman John Hart, later said that Coburn “has decided to take a break from the talks.”
“He is disappointed the group has not been able to bridge the gap between what needs to happen and what senators will support,” Hart said. "He still hopes the Senate will, on a bipartisan basis, pass a long-term deficit-reduction package this year. He looks forward to working with anyone who is interested in putting forward a plan that is specific, balanced, and comprehensive.”
Earlier today, other members, including Crapo and Chambliss, insisted the group remains relevant and can reach a deal. But Coburn’s position increases the already fast diminishing hopes the gang can reach a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal, including tax code and entitlement reform that could have credibility with both parties.
The stumble by the gang increases the pressure on talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. While the gang has been working on a long-term deficit plan, the Biden talks are aimed at an immediate deal matching deficit cuts with a GOP commitment to allow an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
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